Marking his first start since early October 2017 with a brilliant two-try performance, injury-hit captain Sam Drage led Heath to a fantastic bonus point home win over the unbeaten league leaders, Dartfordians on Saturday.
After a disappointing run so far in 2018, Heath defended well in the first 40 minutes then, after the break, found the pace, tempo and attacking verve to knock their opponents back and undermine the understandable confidence derived from Dartfordians' outstanding season.
The match started slowly for Heath and although the home side won decent possession, they found it difficult to break out of their own half. Dartfordians were able to pressurise Heath and breached a resolute home defence twice - at the beginning and end of the first half. Their first try came after just 7 minutes with their backs running angled lines and their forwards hammering at the line until an engineered overlap appeared, with flanker and captain, Simon Briggs, diving over in the right corner. The missed conversion left the visitors 0-5 ahead and meanwhile, Heath took every opportunity to run the ball back at their opponents.
First, pacey full back, Robbie Fotheringham - who asked questions of the league leaders' defence throughout the game - marked the ball in his 22 and scudded along the touchline. Three pairs of hands carried the move on, but desperate defence from Dartfordians broke the flow. However, a after 28 minutes, Heath struck. A foray into the visitors' half, a solid scrum, testing runs from George Davies, Jack Lucas and Roscoe Atkins, a couple of recycled rucks on the line and flanker Wilf Bridges was in under the post. Peter Kerins nailed the straightforward conversion and Heath were 7-5 up.
That's the way it stayed until, from a period of Dartfordian pressure, prop Louis Chapman finished a testing move, again scoring in the right hand corner - but the conversion attempt drifted wide. Although Dartfordians took a 7-10 lead into half time, a combination of firm defence and key turnovers by Heath plus poor decision-making by the visitors meant the game was still very much alive for a determined home side.
It took Heath just seven minutes of the second half to recover the lead. A deep kick to the left corner put pressure on Darfordians and with Fotheringham held up just short, a couple of rucks and wing Jack Lucas was under a pile of bodies for the try. No conversion this time, but Heath were back in the lead 12-10 and beginning to fire in attack. Good use of the bench saw Dan Shotton's height at the line out and Josh Salisbury's usual attrition at the breakdown - combining with an already-fine game from Max Drage - pay dividends.
Although, much of the play was in midfield, Kerins stretched the lead to15-10 with a well-taken penalty. More was to come as Darfordians began to succumb to Heath's pressure defence and indiscipline crept into their game. Flanker Matthew Randall was sent to the bin for ten minutes and Heath took advantage of their extra man, taking every chance to drive the ball at their opponents. Raking kicks and good positional play took the ball to the line and, on two occasions, captain Sam Drage was there for the try. One was converted by the reliable Kerins for a 27-10 lead.
Dartfordians were back up to 15 men - but not for long as the visitors' frustrating afternoon boiled over when a punch from their loose head prop and the resultant red card saw them with 14 men for the remainder of the match. Despite being a man short, the Kent side fought back to test Heath's defence. However, Heath supporters enjoyed an outstanding defensive scrum and a wonderful 50 metre run, complete with dummy and sidestep, from second row and man-of-the-match, Steve Doku – though that decision was tough on day with strong performances from all the Heath squad, especially George Davies, Robbie Fotheringham and both Max and Sam Drage.
The final score was recorded as 27-10 and Dartfordians were deeply disappointed at losing their unbeaten record but Heath was ecstatic at this well-deserved and authoritative win.
Heath can now go into their final two games after Easter with renewed confidence - first away at third-placed Charlton Park and, in the final game of the season on Saturday 14 April, at home to local rivals Horsham in a league and Sussex Cup semi-final when Heath's three-year unbeaten run at Whitemans Green will also be at stake. The season may be coming to a close but there's still a lot for Heath to play for.
Starters: Fotheringham, Conroy-Smith, Diggle, Lucas, Atkins, Kerins, Davies, Liddell, Wolfe, Beckett, Doku, Miller, Drage M, Bridges, Drage S.
Finishers: Shotton, Salisbury, Warwick.