The first round of London South East 2 league for the 2018/19 season saw Heath host Charlton Park, one of the favourites for promotion having had a highly successful pre-season and a reputation for a big, effective forward pack.
The Club and its supporters were feeling very optimistic at kick off having just heard the exciting news that its main Club sponsor, Fairfax, had very generously agreed to support the Club’s vision to build a state of the art multi-sports pavilion at Whitemans Green that would provide the rugby club with a new Clubhouse and Fairfax Building Young Futures with a base from which to manage and activate educational activities for children under its care.
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Earlier this year, Peter Chisholm MBE was appointed Education Consultant to work with Jon Ball, Managing Director at Fairfax in developing Fairfax Building Young Futures - an organisation dedicated to promoting blended learning opportunities for students. Fairfax’s commitment to the project is significant - providing practical expertise as well as considerable financial support - and the Heath Board has already started work hoping to turn their vision into reality by the start of the 2020/21 season.
Meanwhile on the pitch, a new coaching set up with former Heath mini and junior Ross Chisholm, the Harlequins player and former coach of Guildford and Farnham, returning to the Club as joint lead coach alongside Matt Hawkes, coupled with a couple of new recruits, meant that the home side were feeling positive about the season ahead and targeting a promotion spot. The match was preceded with a poignant minute’s silence from both teams in front of the crowd for Simon Burchnall, an under 15 parent and loyal friend of Heath who very sadly passed away recently.
From the opening whistle it was clear that this match was going to be a battle between the very large and well drilled Charlton Park pack and the smaller but more agile Heath team. The home side were immediately quicker to the breakdown forcing penalties for holding on and then using the width of the pitch to challenge the big opposition forwards.
The Heath threequarters showed no fear in throwing the ball around and after several phases took them into the Park 22, a kick through from fly half Jack Best was touched down in the corner by younger brother Charlie Best. Henry Warwick fired the conversion through from out wide for 7-0 to Heath. Heath were clearly up for the fight and from the restart moved the ball quickly away from the Park forwards. A kick through from Heath was fielded by the very quick Park full back but when he tried to run it out he was met by a wall of Heath defenders forcing him to concede a penalty in front of the posts for holding on. Warwick took the points for a 10 -0 lead to Heath after just 10 minutes.
Unsurprisingly the Park pack started rumbling down the hill, first forcing a penalty in front of the posts to pull the score back to 10-3 and then, after a break from the rapid full back provided them with territory, an immense shove in the scrum led to the visitors being awarded a penalty try after Heath collapsed the scrum. Scores were level at 10 -10. In a game that saw the lead swinging to and fro, Heath knew that they were in for a tough afternoon and were going to have to dig deep to get anything from the game.
A kick through from Heath almost saw another score with the referee ruling that the ball had touched the deadball line before being touched down. Charlton Park forced their way back down the pitch and worked a position for their centre to score under the posts for 10-17. Another Heath penalty earned by their speed at the breakdown saw Warwick pull the score back to 13 -17 just before half time.
Re-energised at the restart, Heath were on the attack and a tapped penalty by Wilf Bridges edged the Heath forwards up to the line before number 8 Nick Main rolled over. Warwick added the extras and Heath were back in front at 20-17.
Again Park turned to their forwards to turn the screw and after some awesome resistance in the set piece from the smaller Heath pack, the pressure eventually told as on 50 minutes another penalty try saw the pendulum swing back in the visitors favour at 20 -24. With 5 minutes remaining Heath were under pressure in their own 22 when they broke quickly, cutting the Charlton Park defence to shreds. Quick passing between Menefy, Warwick and Lucas set up skipper Sam Drage, who showed his speed by running the length of the pitch in support, to score under the posts. Man of the Match Warwick slotted the extras to maintain his 100% success rate for a 27-24 lead.
The last five minutes were nervy for the home side as once again the Charlton Park pack tried to smash their way through the resolute Heath defence. A penalty to Park was kicked wide and scrums on their own 5 metre line were defended by Heath as if their lives depended on it until a turnover allowed them to kick the ball off the park and secure a great opening win.
This was a proper game of rugby with the Heath forwards fronting up all afternoon against a significantly bigger pack and using their speed to the breakdown to force the errors which gave their backs the platform to get the win. The mindset of the Heath team to execute that defensive effort was outstanding and they should draw strength from the fact that they won’t face many better sides than Charlton Park this season.
Next week sees the first Sussex derby of the campaign with Heath 1st XV travelling away to Heathfield.
Heath 1st XV squad: Duncan Liddell; Wilf Bridges; Greg Palmer; Steve Doku; Owen McLoughlin; Sam Drage (capt); Josh Salisbury; Nick Main; Brett Menefy; Jack Best; Henry Warwick; Jack Lucas; Max Drage; Robbie Fotheringham; Charlie Best; Charles Newey; Harry Preston-Bell; Matt Ashley.