Not content with being three times County Champions at mini level Heath Under 13s concluded their first season in 15 man junior rugby by achieving an epic win in the Sussex County Cup to complete the league and cup double this season.
Old rivals Chichester who were unbeaten all season were the opponents on finals day which was being hosted by Eastbourne RFC. Heath had been in fine form towards the latter part of the season as all aspects of their game came together and in their final three league fixtures of the season had scored over 100 points and conceded none. Chichester were a different proposition, however, and the entire Heath squad knew that they would be in for a highly physical and competitive encounter and would need to front up if they were to bring home the silverware.
Heath kicked off playing down the hill in front of a large boisterous crowd including representatives from County and the Quins Academy. Given the light drizzle conditions were not great and both sides were initially finding handling difficult. Chichester tore into Heath seeking to impose their physical game and although going up the hill used their powerful runners to try and make ground; Heath’s defensive work however was resolute and they made tackle after tackle to repel the Chi attacks. The Heath pack, whilst smaller than the opposition and struggling to get to terms in the set piece, were immense in the loose, contesting every scrap of possession and pushing Chi back with their wolf pack defence .
Heath weathered the storm and put Chi under pressure with some raking runs from the backs and were unlucky not to score when the ball was bouncing around behind the Chi try line after sustained pressure from a 5 yard scrum. The half ended scoreless which was probably fair and Heath changed ends looking to keep the big Chi runners out who would now be rumbling down the slope. The game continued in the same vein with every loose ball being fought over and repeated big hits on both sides turning over possession. Almost 10 minutes into the half Heath’s backline flew up into their attackers’ faces once again creating the pressure which led to a misplaced Chi pass going to ground - winger Fraser Lawson hacked through from halfway and sprinted up the pitch alongside the Chi defence. Chi couldn’t gather the ball cleanly and the quick thinking Lawson kicked through again and won the race to the try line touching down for the first score. 5 -0 to Heath. The conversion wasn’t simple but Rafe Liebers stepped up and banged over the extras to put Heath in the ascendancy by 7-0.
Predictably Chi upped their game and launched a stream of ferocious attacks into Heath territory with wave after wave of forwards being launched down the middle of the park. To a man Heath maintained their vice like grip on the game with frenzied tackling and their attitude in imposing this side of their game on Chi was quite simply stunning. A break from the Heath pack each supporting the runner led to a penalty which was tapped and run by the winger instead of being kicked for touch gaining valuable territory up the left hand side. Further driving runs from the Heath forwards into the Chi 22 led to the opposition conceding a penalty 5 metres out. The entire Heath pack lined up behind skipper Dylan Thomas who charged towards the line before delivering a sweetly timed off load to the angled run of Leon Cragg who dived over in the corner through the despairing tackles of the Chi defence. 12-0 to Heath with 10 minutes remaining.
Once again Chi came back at Heath striving to get on the board. Heath, buoyed by the arrival of their substitutes off the bench, were determined not to concede and grittily defended a series of 5 metre scrums and tapped penalties on their own line. Whilst spectators and coaches watched on tensely, Heath continued to put their bodies on the line allowing them to relieve the pressure with some long clearing kicks. Chi threw the kitchen sink at the try line but had no answer to Heath’s defensive discipline and at the final whistle it was Heath who deserved the win to give them the historic Sussex Division 1 League and County Cup double. The squad picked up winners medals and Sussex RFU Shields at the presentation for winning both competitions. Head Coach Clive Thomas who was away on holiday and missed the match phoned in at the final whistle to congratulate the boys and said “This is a fantastic group of players and I knew they could win today - I am really proud of all the players in the squad not just those playing today but the rest of the boys who have contributed throughout the season and delivered the league title. Chichester are a great side and to achieve this win over them is very special. For some of these boys it may be their last game for Heath for a while as they are off to different schools next season and we will miss them, but I have every confidence that the squad will continue to improve and build on this great win”.
This is a fantastic group of players and I knew they could win today - I am really proud of all the players in the squad not just those playing todayClive Thomas
The whole Heath U13s squad should be congratulated for a complete team effort and performance, including man of the match, Heath’s winger Fraser Lawson, who was recognised for his unbelievable tackle count and for breaking the deadlock with an outstanding individual try.
Squad (not as pictured): Cragg, Connellan , Scotland, Van Hoeken , Duffield, Thomas , Hampshire, Jones, Herbert, Liebers, Ratcliffe, McClaren, Adams, Lawson , Cordeschi , Hanley, Brooks, Pratt , Marrero, Marmion, Brear, Roberts.