Bringing LSE2 league rugby back to Whitemans Green for only the second time this calendar year and on the back of a five match winning streak, Heath encountered an equally resilient Old Colfeians squad enjoying a seven match winning run of their own.
It was clear from outset that this was going to be a really tight contest where every mistake would be magnified and every opportunity had to be taken.
Heath enjoyed the majority of territory and possession in the opening exchanges, taking the points on offer from an early penalty and a 3-0 lead. Heath had speed on their side and committed to a number of huge tackles on the sizeable forwards of Old Colfeians who were proving difficult to dislodge.
SEE ALSO Heath RFC secure courageous win away at Gravesend | Rugby dreams back on track for Rhys after knee surgery | All Blacks ecstatic with semi-final victory
Handling errors were not helped by the slippery conditions and play swung backwards and forwards with penalties resulting in a series of 5m lineouts at both ends of the pitch, defensive shifts from both sides preventing further scores by either. There were knock-ons and stolen lineouts in abundance, mostly to the benefit of the home side, and although the visitors were warned over their growing penalty count, it was a mistake by Heath during an important defensive phase of play that resulted in a yellow card. Old Colfeians took immediate advantage from the resulting lineout, driving a significantly sizeable maul over the line for a try.
The conversion was missed putting just two points between the sides and the scoreline 3-5 gave an indication of what was to come.
From the restart a Lucas kick was cleverly charged down by Old Colfeians and, although the resulting try scoring opportunity was rescued by Heath’s nimble defence, an accidental offside reduced Heath's numbers still further as a second yellow card meant the home side was down to 13 men. Opting to take a scrum penalty and repeat the successful heavyweight maul of earlier, Old Colfeians knocked on with the try line waiting. A reprieve for Heath who cleared their lines but found themselves immediately under pressure from the resulting lineout. A huge tackle from Fergusson as part of a brave Heath defence was unfortunate to result in a penalty and Old Colfeians opted to kick the penalty and stretch out their lead to 3-8 as Heath returned to 14 men.
With half time looming Heath earned themselves a penalty after a series of phases that put real pressure on the Old Colfeians try line, finally opting to kick the points and ensure the score stood at 6-8 on the half time whistle. The pattern of the match had already emerged and every point was going to count in this fierce battle between two teams currently sitting 4th and 5th in the league.
The second half started in a similar fashion to the first, with Heath tackling strongly and turning defence into attack - a break away by McPherson, who was brought down within sight of the try line, was knocked on in the resulting melee and Old Colfeians managed to clear their lines. It was now time for Old Colfeians to see yellow and, with the visitors reduced to 14 men, Heath were unable to take advantage of a penalty in front of the posts on a difficult day for the kickers. Heath kept their composure and continued to take the initiative - spreading the ball wide they edged closer to the try line. A 5m lineout resulted in another penalty to Heath and a confident pack opted for a scrum. Conditions continued to make handling difficult but Menefy broke through a gap in the Old Colfeians defence to score a much-deserved try for Heath which was duly converted by Warwick to put Heath back out in front at 13-8.
From the restart Heath reclaimed the ball but a knock on gave the scrum to Old Colfeians. Heath were re-energised and sensing an opportunity, turned over the scrum, the Heath backs running towards a tiring and very narrow Old Colfeians defence and a deliberate knock-on was punished by a second yellow card. With the visitors temporarily down to 13 men, the vocal crowd sensed a further score coming for Heath but Old Colfeians used all their experience and strength in their pack to secure their own penalty advantage from a maul and immediately put the pressure back on Heath. A series of desperate try-saving tackles was not enough to keep Old Colfeians at bay and spinning the ball wide, Old Colfeians took advantage of the resulting opportunity to pounce over and secure their second try, a conversion adding to their points tally and pushing the scoreboard 13-15 in their favour.
With 10 minutes remaining there was no need to panic and Heath had an immediate opportunity to steal the match, collecting the ball from the restart they secured a kickable penalty but it squeezed just wide of the post and left Heath still trailing by two points. Again Heath came back at Old Colfeians and a tackle breaking run went unrewarded as Old Colfeians stood firm under increasing pressure. Heath won a lineout close to the try line and again it seemed like the home team might be able to conjure up a match-winning score but clever play from the visitors led to them clearing their lines and spending the last minutes of the match pressurising the Heath try line, their relief showing as they kicked the ball out immediately at full time despite their territorial advantage and celebrated taking the points from a disappointed Heath side.
This was a very tight contest with some great tackling and defensive play however, although Heath kept their discipline in the second half, they were unable to take advantage when the opposition's numbers were reduced and be 100% clinical when scoring opportunities arose. But Heath can be proud of the fight and the small margin of the victory to Old Colfeians at 13-15 shows how well Heath is progressing this season as the squad matures and develops.
Heath RAMS endured an equally frustrating scoreline losing 19-14 away against a tough Pulborough 2 and will be looking to use this disappointment to ignite a strong cup performance in the Harveys Sussex Plate against Plumpton away next Saturday. The next match for Heath 1st XV is away against Maidstone on Saturday 2 March.
Heath 1st XV squad: Henry Warwick; Jamie Diggle; Casey Calder; Owain McLoughlin; Charlie Best; Jack Lucas; Brett Menefy; Charles Newey; Max Drage; Martin McDonagh; Hugo McPherson; Gareth Fergusson; Steve Doku; Sam Drage (Capt.); Nick Main; Sam Beckett; Dan Fergusson; Dougie Kern