Heath returned to Whitemans Green on Saturday desperate to make amends for their slip up away at Heathfield the previous weekend where they only managed a losing bonus point from an under par performance.
The visitors for round 3 of the London SE2 league were Deal & Betteshanger with Heath knowing they were in for a tough encounter following two somewhat fractious matches on and off the field last season.
The remnants of Storm Brian meant that the game was kicking off in blustery conditions and steady rain which was not ideal for Heath’s brand of rugby. The visitors were quickly into the game and spent the first ten minutes camped in the Heath half with a pack that were dominating the set piece. On a wet afternoon with a slippery ball the signs looked ominous for Heath as they struggled to get to grips with the Deal forwards. A bizarre dressing down for celebrating a defensive turnover didn’t help the Heath cause as they started to get on the wrong side of the referee.
This early onslaught from Deal was weathered as Heath crept into the game and started to gain some traction in the middle of the park. Heath’s pack were working tirelessly in the loose and from counter attacks, or when the ball was moved wider, the backs looked to have the measure of their opponents. On 20 minutes Steve Doku, playing in the back row, forced a turnover allowing Heath to press deep into the Deal half and start turning up the pressure. A rushed clearance kick was hit straight into the hands of Wilf Bridges just outside the 22, who, showing why he is a hooker who can play centre, beat the covering defence on the outside and scored in the corner for 5-0.
A lack of concentration from Heath at the restart meant they lost possession and then conceded a penalty. Deal kicked to the corner and from the ensuing scrum marched Heath over their own line for the score. To be frank Heath did well to not concede a penalty scrum and when the conversion was missed the score stood at 5-5 and gave an indication of the see-saw battle that was to come.
Through a combination of the conditions and their own indiscipline Heath couldn’t get any fluency into their game conceding turnovers and needless penalties - a few of which saw an extra 10 meters being added for backchat. If Deal had kicked better they would have been ahead but as it was on the stroke of halftime a penalty to Heath was kicked by Ben Whiteman for Heath to go into that break with a narrow 8-5 lead.
Turning around to play down the slope - albeit into the wind - in the second half, Heath were looking to press home the advantage of their fitness and quicker game around the park. Immediately the plan went awry as another lack of concentration and a loss of defensive shape saw too many players sucked in competing for the ball which allowed space for the Deal winger to get around the outside on the right, beat three tackles and score a converted try to take a 8-12 lead.
It was time for Heath to dig deep and, with the help of a small but highly vocal crowd urging them on, they responded. Heath refused to let Deal out of their own 22 despite the set piece strength of the visitors, and a sustained spell of Heath pressure finally had its reward after skipper Sam Drage forced a turnover 10 meters out. Deal infringed by holding on at the breakdown and a quick tap from Bridges saw him driven over for a try and restored a narrow 13-12 advantage with around 15 minutes remaining.
Deal did not rollover and forced their way up to the Heath 22 where another penalty conceded by the home side saw the visitors slot the kick for a 13-15 lead with 8 minutes remaining. Heath refused to panic and once again played themselves deep into the Deal half. Desperate defence from Deal saw them holding out until they conceded another breakdown penalty around 15 meters in from the touchline to the left of the posts.
With only 4 minutes remaining of the match Whiteman stepped up with a good connection into the swirling wind and rain, dissecting the posts for the slenderest of leads for Heath at 16-15.
There was still time for Deal to miss a penalty but Heath held out to the final whistle for a win that demonstrated the character of the team. A good win and 4 valuable points, but still plenty to improve on for Heath - they need to cut out the silly penalties and play the referee better if they are going to control games throughout the 80 minutes as the season progresses. This result could easily have gone against Heath if their opponents had been more clinical in taking their points. Next week sees a trip away to Aylesford Bulls.
Heath 1st XV squad: Charles Newey; Wilf Bridges; Martin McDonagh; Gareth Fergusson; Dan Fergusson; Steve Doku; Sam Drage (capt); Josh Salisbury; Tom Hick; Robbie Fotheringham; Roscoe Atkins; Jack Lucas; Max Drage; Ben Whiteman; Charlie Best; Will Purdy; Harry Preston-Bell; Matt Ashley.