THESE two local rivals last met on the last day of last season, when victory in the last couple of minutes saw Heathfield promoted to London 2 South East and Crowborough condemned to another season in London 3 South East.
A lot can happen in 12 months. Crowborough have a growing and maturing squad who are all challenging for places, together with a new clubhouse. The season saw them take the league championship and gain promotion, and, despite a worsening long-term injury list, they kept their focus and managed to lose just one encounter throughout the season.
Meanwhile, Heathfield have endured a difficult season in the higher league, managing to avoid relegation in a nail-biting last game of the season, that saw Tunbridge Wells take the final relegation spot.
Crowborough had qualified for the final of the Bob Rogers Cup, by virtue of a series of byes and a winner-takes-all match against Horsham, while Heathfield cruised through with byes in each round.
On a day that forecast heavy showers and clouds, the game kicked off in bright breezy sunshine. Heathfield settled the quicker, moving the ball wide to the impressive Ollie Brown, who made good ground before being corralled by the well-organised Boro defence. Both sides traded penalties for minor offences, with Joe Wood for Heathfield and Jack Barker for Boro converting their efforts before two more Wood’s penalties stretched the Heathfield lead to 9-3.
Crowborough started to settle into a rhythm, that countered the Heathfield well-organised press defence, and, through their pack, drove though the centre of the defence, setting up a scoring opportunity short of the Heathfield line.
From the line-out Matt Botterman took the tap down and set up the ruck. As the ball came out and with the line just needing to be crossed the ball was knocked on allowing Heathfield to remove the danger.
Sensing a swing to the match, Crowborough, through their cohesive forward unit, forced an anxious Heathfield back row to stray offside, giving Barker the three points, but the six-point spread was re-instated when Boro were again pinged for offside, which Wood punished to take the half time score to 12-6.
With Murray Galbraithe–Lowe on for Tom Dagwell and Nick Pass on for Damien Hayes, the second half started at a pace, and, within five minutes, the pressure told as the ever present Tom Noot popped up on the wing, latching onto a pass from Matt Logan to round Brown and score out wide. The kick was missed.
Heathfield then pulled back three more points from a Wood penalty (15-11).
With 20 minutes of the game to go, Heathfield were penalised for lying on the ball, and the penalty was put into touch deep in the Heathfield 22.
From the line-out Boro drove to within two metres of the line before strong Heathfield defence stopped the momentum. Seb Goodhew fed Barker with a long pass, and Ed Atkin, having made space to avoid the press defence, found Mitch Malherbe entering the line at pace.
With the cover coming across Hamish Greenwood provided the extra man, and, with an economy of effort, glided around the cover to score out wide. The kick was missed (15-16).
Crowborough have shown all season that, in spite of their hard season, their fitness is unquestionable and that when they get their noses in front they can turn up the pressure.
With the Boro forwards securing quick clean ball their backs were once more on the charge, and, in a bizarre passage of play, a lateral pass from Atkin to Greenwood hit Greenwood on the edge of his shoulder, going backwards into Atkins’ hands and out to a rampaging Malherbe. As Malherbe drew the defence, Greenwood slid into the gap to take the offload and score his second of the afternoon. The kick was missed (15-21)
Minutes later, from a scrum on the half-way, Goodhew broke through the first line of defence, giving the scoring pass to Greenwood who posted his second hat-trick of the season. The kick by Barker was successful (15-28).
With the game now out of reach, Heathfield gave an opportunity to their young bench to give them a piece of the occasion, but not before Crowborough sewed up the match with a robust score from Matt Logan. Following a break by the industrious Noot, he took the pass and, with two defenders attached, crossed the line to score the fifth of Boro’s tries. The kick was missed (15-33).
To Heathfield’s credit they continued through to the final whistle, and almost crossed the line with a forward drive, only for a heroic period of defence from the Boro pack to deny the try.
The win rounds off a magnificent season, with a Championship and Cup victory.
On Saturday, Crowborough’s second XV completed their outstanding season with an emphatic and entertaining match in front of a large crowd against a spirited Midhurst side, running out winners 17-3.