With a much-changed side from last week due to injuries and the unavailability of key players, Lewes were always going to find this tough going against a Haywards Heath side also vying for promotion this season.
However, it was a show of Lewes’s strength in depth that, although losing their 100% record, they managed to prevent Heath from gaining a bonus-point, while scoring a losing bonus-point themselves which keeps them top of the League by 1 point.
The early moments of the match saw Lewes make strides into the Heath’s 22 metre area which resulted in their first try after 10 minutes from No.8. Tom Hatch, full-back Henry Tagg kicking over the conversion to see the hosts take an early 7 - 0 lead.
Heath responded 5 minutes later, with a strong attacking move finished off by their right-winger, their No. 12 adding the extras to draw level at 7 - 7.
Heath then went into the lead 5 minutes later as their pack began to create greater possession, assisted by several unforced errors by a Lewes team still trying to adjust to their much-changed squad.
An unconverted try by their hooker took the score to 7 - 12, which became 7 - 15 just before the half-time break with a penalty against Lewes for offside, Heath’s No. 12 kicking over from in front of the posts.
The second half saw Lewes come back into the game as they began to settle down, and it took only 5 minutes for them to claw back to 12 - 15 with a well-taken but unconverted try in the left corner by left-winger Jack Cullinane. But Heath reinstated their advantage to 12 - 18 some 2 minutes later with another penalty kick from their centre.
A subsequent penalty kick against Heath was slotted over by Tagg to make it 15 - 18, and at this point in the game, it was anybody’s match. But it was Heath - whose heavier pack of forwards were now getting in to their rhythm - who pulled away, with a push-over try after some 5 minutes of pressure near Lewe’s try-line, the missed conversion seeing them go 15 - 23 up in this absorbing contest.
To Lewes’ s credit, they never gave up the chase and - even though being at the wrong end of a heavy penalty-count - fought back to 20 - 23 with Hatch’s second try, the conversion just missing the posts.
The home crowd were now urging their team to secure the win as Lewes’s flowing attacking play, thwarted by Heath’s somewhat desperate defensive methods - which saw 3 of their players yellow-carded in the last few minutes of the match - pushed them close to the visitors’ try-line.
At this point, an attack down the left saw Cullinane go over for what the crowd thought was going to be the winning try, only for the score to be over-ruled by the referee who apparently saw a foot in touch - even though he was a considerable distance from play, and the nearer touch-judge saw no such offence!
But in a rare break back upfield by Heath following a clearance kick, they were awarded a somewhat mysterious penalty in front of the posts by the referee for a Lewes offence which nobody else in the ground appeared to see, enabling their centre to kick-over to make the final score 20 - 26.
The players’ Man-of-the-Match was Tom Hatch for his fine, all-round performance.
Lewes: - Hill, Warren, Cripps, Creed, Gorbell, Dean, Blunt, Hatch, Jones, Shiel, Cullinane,Tobin,Carmichael, Terry, Tagg. (reps.: Williams, Jacques, Nolan)
Lewes 2nd’s - whose squad was depleted due to call-ups to the 1st XV - nevertheless returned from their away match at Cinque Ports with a fine 24 - 17 win, scoring 4 tries and 2 conversions in the process.
On Saturday, there are no games at the Stanley Turner Ground due to the Rugby World Cup Final at Twickenham, the next games being on 7 November - the 1st’s away to Hove, the 2nd’s at home to Burgess Hill, both k.o’s at 2.30pm.
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