The excitement was palpable as, after a long pre-season, Heath seniors faced their first competitive league games of the 2019/20 season. Numbers at training had been good all summer as Heath 1s prepared for a return to London South East 2 action with a tough fixture away at Gravesend and the RAMS, playing in Sussex 1 after a league restructure, faced Seaford 1stXV at Whitemans Green.
Trips to Gravesend are always going to be fiercely competitive with big forwards and extremely partisan crowds making it a potentially intimidating arena for some sides to visit. Heath were clearly up for the challenge but soon found themselves down 3-0 after conceding a number of penalties. The pressure was increased still further as two Heath forwards were sent to the bin for not rolling away leaving the remaining thirteen players to put in an immense defensive shift to stay in the game. Gravesend threw everything at Heath but were becoming increasingly frustrated at their inability to score despite their numerical advantage.
The second half saw more of the same with two more yellow cards for Heath and a try to the home side putting Gravesend 8-0 up. With ten minutes remaining despite their herculean defence things were looking bleak for Heath as they were unable to get on the board, although it was becoming evident that their superior fitness levels were starting to prevail. More Heath pressure took them up close to the Gravesend line where Patrick McPherson managed to pick and go to crash over for the much needed try. Henry Warwick converted for 8-7.
It was now Gravesend’s turn to try to hang on in front of their excitable crowd but they were unable to do so. Fly half Jack Lucas broke and set up Charlie Best to go over in the dying seconds for the decisive score. Warwick added the extras to cap a great away performance at 8-14. The character, fitness and mental strength of the Heath team to get the win was outstanding and a focus on reducing the penalty count will help them keep to winning ways as the season progresses.
Heath RAMS entertained Seaford 1s in their game in front of a sizeable crowd at Whitemans Green in blazing sunshine. The RAMS took an early lead which they had extended to 14 -5 on the 25 minute mark with some scintillating rugby, however Seaford came right back into the game with two tries of their own just before half time to lead at the break 14 -17 with a Heath man in the sin bin. The portents were not good after the break as Seaford continued to exploit their momentum with another try for 14 -24. However a yellow card against Seaford was the opportunity that the RAMS had been waiting for and a cracking team try in the corner clawed the deficit back to 19-24 followed by another score which saw the home side bring the scores level at 24 -24.
A lack of concentration in defence saw RAMS concede a penalty which allowed Seaford to regain the lead at 24-27. The see-saw momentum and growing tension continued as the RAMS hit back with another well worked try scored in the far left corner for 29-27 with just six minutes left to play. Seaford charged back but the RAMS soaked up the pressure, cleared their lines and put the icing on the cake with a final play try by the barnstorming Duncan Liddell to secure his hattrick and take the score at the final whistle to 34-27. This was a fantastic start to the season for both senior sides with the entire squad digging deep and drawing on their superior fitness levels to secure both wins.
Next weekend sees rugby take centre stage with the Rugby World Cup kicking off and Heath 1st XV at home to Old Alleynians whilst the RAMS travel away to Hellingly.
Heath 1st XV squad: Charles Newey; Max Drage; Martin McDonagh; Hugo McPherson; Steve Doku; Sam Drage (capt); Josh Salisbury; Hugh Erritt; Tom Hicks; Jack Lucas; Roscoe Atkins; Owain Mcloughlin; Matt Smith; Charlie Best; Henry Warwick; Matt Hollyland; Patrick McPherson; Jack Best.
RAMS squad: Charlie Milner; Karl Wicking; Chris Cripps; Kenny Murray; Sam Muir; Duncan Liddell; Henry Dickson; Fraser Russell; Kris Whelan; Chris Neill (capt); Shaun Fitzgerald; Gareth Fergusson; Ali Fraser; Louie Dalmon; Tim Salisbury; Dan Fergusson.