Heath were back in action after a week’s break and travelled away to unbeaten Beckenham who were some way clear of the chasing pack at the top of the London SE2 league table.
Given Beckenham’s ability all season to pile the points on the opposition, averaging over 42 points a game, coupled with the meanest defence in the division, Heath knew this was going to be a tough afternoon.
Clearly up for it, Heath were led from the front by skipper Sam Drage who, making some characteristically bruising runs, took Heath straight into Beckenham’s 22 and within two minutes Heath were ahead from a Jack Lucas penalty in front of the posts for 0-3.
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Beckenham couldn’t work out how to play their own game with the visitors’ smothering defence repeatedly shutting down the home side, although Heath threw away golden opportunities to increase their pressure on the league leaders with a couple of poorly executed lineouts turning over possession deep in the home 22. The pivotal point in the match came after 13 minutes when a mis-judged tackle in the midfield took an attacking Beckenham player over the horizontal. Unfortunately, whilst there was no malice in the tackle, by the letter of the law the referee had no option but to deem it a red card offence and Heath were reduced to 14 men for the remainder of the match which had yet to reach the end of the first quarter. From the ensuing penalty Beckenham evened things up at 3-3.
Heath continued to play a lot of the rugby whilst the formidable Beckenham set piece at scrum and lineout set a platform for them to find territory. A scrum penalty on 20 minutes was kicked by the league leaders for 6-3 but Heath hung on in there and counter attacked at every opportunity. On the stroke of half time Heath had a penalty on the 10 metre line but kicking into the wind it was a big ask and drifted wide.
At half time the travelling Heath support were still hopeful of an epic upset as, despite the numerical disadvantage, their side was right in the game and taking it to the unbeaten Beckenham side who seemed a little flustered by their own inability to take control. However, things started to look distinctly gloomy for Heath from the restart as Beckenham scored a relatively soft try to stretch the lead to 11-3. Within 10 minutes Heath were back in it as a penalty kicked to the corner was taken at the lineout and mauled to within three metres of the try line, allowing scrum half Matt Ashley to dart down the blind side and score for 11-8. Beckenham hit back with a try from a rolling maul which was followed by Heath replying with a penalty kicked by the returning Casey Calder for 16 -11 and all to play for.
The game was see-sawing from end to end with Heath looking the more ambitious of the sides in open play, but the Beckenham set plays dominating possession. Another penalty saw Beckenham extend their lead to 19-11 with 15 minutes remaining and another dominant scrum saw them go over in the corner for a third try with nine minutes left for 24 -11.
Back came Heath into the opposition 22 from another break up field and earned another penalty which Calder kicked for 24-14 with 3 minutes remaining. Heath were looking for a try to take at least a losing bonus point for their enormous efforts, and Beckenham were intent on another score to secure a bonus point of their own. Heath ran out of gas and an overthrown lineout was pounced on by Beckenham in injury time for the bonus point try and a 29 -14 final score.
This was a great game of rugby from two very committed sides and an astonishing defensive effort from a 14-man Heath side playing against such strong opposition. The loss drops Heath down to seventh in the league but with plenty of positives to take for their next game at home to local rivals Horsham on Saturday 1st December (kick off 2pm).
Heath Squad: Duncan Liddell; Wilf Bridges; Greg Palmer; Hugo Macpherson; Steve Doku; Max Drage; Josh Salisbury; Sam Drage; Matt Ashley; Jack Lucas; Jamie Diggle; Owen McLoughlin; Robbie Fotheringham; Roscoe Atkins; Charlie Best; Brett Menefy; Casey Calder; Charles Newey.