Foul conditions greeted Haywards Heath and Dover at Whitemans Green on Saturday as they took to the field for this round 5 London SE2 league clash.
The visitors were sitting top of the table after a 100% win rate this season with Heath a few points behind in fourth but keen to maintain their unbeaten home record.
Notwithstanding the inclement weather, Heath immediately attacked Dover and were looking to move the visitors’ big pack around. An attack down the blindside took Heath deep into territory where Dover were pinged for offside. Ben Whiteman kicked the penalty for an early Heath lead at 3-0.
SEE ALSO Heath's impressive juniors start season in style | Former Worthing Raiders and Haywards Heath star Joe Marler quits international rugby | Heath RFC bounce back with thrilling one point win
Heath were playing all the rugby and seemed to have control of the game, however, their reluctance to play the conditions and kick to the corners meant that phases of play were not being adequately rewarded. Dover made them pay by gaining a penalty in one of their rare forays into Heath territory which their fly half kicked for 3-3 after 25 minutes.
From the restart kick a sliding slippery ball caused chaos in the Dover ranks forcing them to concede a penalty which was kicked to the corner. Heath took the lineout cleanly drove forward before releasing the backs where centre Jack Lucas kicked through and touched down for the score.
Whiteman converted for a 10-3 advantage to Heath. The home side appeared to have the upper hand but continued to be guilty of over ambition in the driving rain, meaning mistakes and turnovers stopped them turning their passion into points.
Dover were eventually penalised for being off their feet a few minutes before half time and Whiteman stepped up to take the three points and make it 13-3. A lack of concentration from the restart saw Heath lose the ball and in an effort to win it back concede a soft penalty at the breakdown. Dover kicked it with the last play of the half for a 13-6 scoreline at the break.
The second half started with no break in the dreadful conditions and, despite playing up the hill, Heath continued where they left off, dominating the league leaders. Heath’s lighter pack were on top at the set piece and in the loose, and as much as Dover tried to clear their lines Heath kept coming back for more. Good field position from a Lucas break from deep saw Heath camped in the Dover 22.
With the scrum so dominant Heath declined a kick at goal from a penalty in the red zone and after shunting the visitors backwards at the set piece went through various pick and go phases before moving the ball to winger Whiteman who touched down in the corner for 18-6. Unfortunately a bad leg injury to the Dover scrum half in attempting to make a try saving tackle saw him requiring an ambulance, so the game was moved to the other pitch to play out the last 15 minutes.
Dover seemed galvanised by the injury to their team mate and the game momentum shifted after the delay. A converted try virtually from the restart gave the visitors real belief that at 18-13 they could get something from the game. Heath worked the ball back up to the Dover 22 but lacked the composure to convert the territory advantage into points. In their desperation to win the ball back Heath lost a man to the bin for an unfortunate high tackle. Dover cleared and from a scrum deep in the Heath half, wheeled the scrum to the blind side where their big number 8 strolled over out wide. This time the Dover fly half couldn’t convert and the game was at 18-18 with 4 minutes to play. To Heath’s credit they found the will to push back into the Dover half but with seconds remaining a last gasp penalty opportunity slid wide and the final whistle went with the teams level on the scoreboard.
An entertaining game of rugby in miserable weather but an opportunity missed for another home win for Heath. Their keenness to keep playing the ball has to be admired but, in hindsight, adopting a more pragmatic style to fit the conditions might have seen them through. A phenomenal scrummaging effort from the tight five and a generally rock-solid defence were all positives to take from the game although Heath might be left with a feeling that this was two points lost as opposed to two points gained. The draw saw Heath drop to fifth and Dover drop to third in what is becoming an increasingly tight top half of the LSE2 league.
Heath RAMs played Horsham 2s away and after a slow start woke up in the second half, just losing out in a thrilling encounter. There is no rugby next weekend for the 1st XV, with the next league game at home to Gravesend on Saturday 20 October.
Heath 1st XV Squad: Greg Palmer; Wilf Bridges; Charles Newey; Gareth Fergusson; Owain McLoughlin; Sam Drage (capt); Josh Salisbury; Nick Main; Matt Ashley; Robbie Fotheringham; Roscoe Atkins; Jack Lucas; Max Drage; Ben Whiteman; Charlie Best; Harry Preston-Bell; Dan Shotton; Henry Warwick.