HEATHFIELD U17s had another early start for their trip to Henley RFC as London and South East representatives in their U17 National Bowl semi-final against the South-West division champions Taunton.
Taunton kicked-off into a light breeze and immediately secured possession and territory. Taunton used this to their advantage when, after six minutes, a well-worked driving maul allowed their scrum-half and playmaker to dart through unopposed from eight metres out to score a converted try under the posts.
Heathfield came back strongly with a spectacular catch from Jamie Wardle directly from the restart. This gave Heathfield their first bit of real possession, with a number of threatening attacks from backs Piers O’Conor and Gareth Lloyd probing the Taunton defence. During this period Heathfield came close to scoring on a number of occasions when Jack Koops was put clear – only to be bundled into touch a metre short of the line and Travis Parsons was clear but called back for an earlier infringement. Sadly, Rory Cramp suffered a back injury and was replaced after 12 minutes by another U16 player, James Higgins.
It wasn’t until 16 minutes into the half when a chip through from Harry Reilly was fumbled by the otherwise excellent Taunton full back. O’Conor was on hand to pick up the loose ball and was strong enough to fend off the despairing tackle from the Taunton full back trying to make amends. Reilly converted and, with the score 7-5,
Heathfield were back in the match and competing well. The Heathfield forwards had to commit body and soul into competing against a much larger Taunton pack and actually managed very well with both sides winning their own line outs and Heathfield generally better in the scrum. It was at the breakdown that Heathfield had a real contest with both sides committing penalty offences in an attempt to secure possession. Taunton scored next when, after 25 minutes, a knock-down by Heathfield was adjudged intentional and the Taunton kicker converted from 40 metres.
Taunton then increased the tempo of the match and scored another try just before half-time when their scrum-half broke down the blind side of a ruck and fed his winger to score in the corner. The try again went unconverted but Taunton were now just beginning to pull away from Heathfield with the score 7-13. Taunton infringed from the restart but with the referee signalling the last play, Reilly converted a superb penalty from 38 metres out and right on the touchline pulling Heathfield back into the match at 13-10 down at the interval.
Heathfield kicked off the second half and drove hard at Taunton again with Wardle catching from the kick-off. However a knock-on at the ensuing ruck and the referee playing advantage saw Taunton’s dangerous full back receive the ball at the halfway line and weave through the centre of Heathfield’s defence, beating four tacklers to score close to the posts.
Taunton converted leaving a stunned Heathfield trailing 20-10 with the second half just started. But the Sussex side showed tremendous grit and determination with the forwards launching themselves into every contact and fighting for every scrap of possession. Such was the pressure exerted that Taunton had their centre yellow-carded for a shoulder charge on Alex Borg when bursting through the line. Reilly’s attempt at the penalty went wide but Heathfield were beginning to gain a decisive advantage at most phases of play. They again increased their tempo but Taunton were defending well and, according to the referee, illegally when another player, their No 8, was also yellow-carded.
At the next scrum, Heathfield put their two-man advantage to good use when Reilly and Koops linked to free Freddy Jones, on for the injured George Bending, to score a converted try near the posts with nine minutes left on the clock. Taunton were now the team under intense pressure but, with both carded players back on the pitch, were defending well and thwarting all Heathfield’s efforts.
It wasn’t until the last minute of play when Taunton won a scrum near their 22 metre line to relieve the pressure and looked to attack down the wing. O’Conor read the play superbly and intercepted the pass to allow him to saunter in unopposed under the posts. Reilly converted taking the score to 24-20, with Heathfield scoring 14 unanswered points in the last 10 minutes of the match.
Heathfield played out the remaining few seconds to record another last gasp win against formidable opposition and now travel to Worcester Warriors Sixways stadium to contest the U17 National Bowl final against Shrewsbury RFC on May 6.