It was a glorious day for Heath – the weather, a cracking Six Nations game the night before, a decisive win for England in the Calcutta Cup in which former Heath Colt - Joe Marler - led the team out for his 50th cap - and, most importantly, a big win for Heath over Lewes.
Having lost narrowly at home and seeing the physically strong Lewes team warming up, Heath supporters were nervous, but the players soon found their feet and, within ten minutes, were 0-14 ahead. First, Robbie Fotheringham burst the line to feed Jamie Diggle, who ran in strongly for a try under the posts. Peter Kerins’ conversion was straightforward and a great start 0-7. There followed a great take from Dan Shotton in a line out and quick hands along the backline for Bobby Conroy-Smith to finish. An excellent conversion followed by Kerins from the right hand touchline. Heath looked to be on song, but fourth-placed Lewes were not to be dismissed and came back with ambition.
Retaining possession for around 20 minutes, and kicking for the corner rather than the posts as Heath conceded penalties, the home side put intense pressure on Heath in their own 22. However, Heath’s defensive quality - evident with the lowest ‘points against’ in the London and South East leagues - was resolute until a sharp move to the right found a man over for a Lewes score.
No conversion but the score narrowed to 5-14 with more to cause anxiety as centre Jack Lucas was yellow-carded for a high tackle. It was Heath though who struck as, from the top of a short line-out, flanker Harry Preston-Bell rounded off a series of offloads involving Main, Drage and Kerins. Driving straight up the middle of the park from the half way line, they conjured a powerful under-the posts try. Kerins added the conversion two plus two more points following a Fotheringham try on the burst and it was 5-28 to Heath. Lucas returned - but, before the whistle drew the half to a close, he was soon replaced in the bin by outstanding scrum half, Brett Menefy, yellow carded for a team offence. Heath continued to press on dominating the set piece with the front row of Jack Bull and Euan Greaves- Smith clearly having the upper hand in the tight supported by the industrious second row of Nick Miller and Shotton .
With Heath looking safe, but still down to 14 men, Lewes struck early. A stray pass was picked up quickly and an uncharacteristic gap in the Heath line was exploited for an easy run-in try, to which the points were added making the score 12-28. Kerins’ boot was quick to strike back with a straightforward penalty taking the score to 12-31. At that point Lewes’s problems intensified with a red card to one of their props for a kick on a Heath player. Menefy was back for Heath who continued to look dangerous with wings Roscoe Atkins and Conroy Smith looking to exploit the new found space but Lewes, as teams often do, found hidden strength in adversity - helped by Heath making mistakes as their game lost intensity and began to waver into casual errors. Entering the final quarter of the game, Lewes again exploited a Heath error for a try on the left. The conversion was missed but the gap had narrowed to 17-31. The Heath bench kept the momentum going with the wily old heads of Dan Fergusson and Sam Beckett joining the fray to maintain the momentum.
Henry Warwick replaced Lucas, who sustained what looked like a serious ankle injury but neither side was finished. From a strong scrum 30 metres out, Kerins half-breached the line to feed Fotheringham. A side-step and a shimmy was enough to see him through and, with Kerins again adding the extras, Heath were 17-38 up. Another mistake and Lewes kicked ahead into the right corner for 22-38 and then two yellow cards for Lewes presented Heath with a golden opportunity to stretch further ahead – literally as Dan Shotton used his full 6’8” to reach across the line for a fine try and final 22-43 scoreline. No conversion but, despite mistakes and uncharacteristic defensive frailties, it was a highly satisfying and convincing win against a vigorous Lewes side.
The first half had seen Heath secure a highly significant bonus point. They were strong in the line out and the scrum where they consistently rolled Lewes back, pacey to the breakdown from the impressive back row of Main, Preston-Bell and Drage, who was everywhere, running incisively in the backs and exhibiting character in defence. Man-of-the-Match Wilf Bridges made a major contribution throughout the match, particularly the accuracy of his line out throwing.
With leaders Pulborough winning at second-place Thanet Wanderers, Heath have leap-frogged the Kent side to occupy second place in the league. Interim assistant coach, Huw Jenkins, commented: “The final score and overall performance is testament to how hard the squad has worked all season. It’s always great to get a win over Lewes in this local derby game and, in this instance, to put promotion back in our hands. There’s plenty of work to do and the target is still clear – a bonus point win in each of three remaining games and London 2 rugby next season.”
A week’s break follows before the final run-in – at Sheppey on 25th March, at home to Aylesford Bulls on 1st April and, finally, away at Gillingham Anchorians on 8th April.
Heath Rams had a very tough away fixture at Plumpton RFC and after competing well for large parts of the game eventually lost 38-0 .
Heath 1st XV squad: Jack Bull, Wilf Bridges, Euan Greaves-Smith (Sam Beckett), Nick Miler (Dan Fergusson), Dan Shotton, Harry Preston-Bell, Sam Drage, Nick Main (capt), Brett Menefy, Peter Kerins, Roscoe Atkins, Jamie Diggle, Jack Lucas (Henry Warwick), Bobby Conroy-Smith, Robbie Fotheringham.