Eastbourne beaten by Twickenham – Haywards Heath in free-scoring win at Crawley

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As the league rugby programme resumed after the festive break, Eastbourne lost away to Twickenham but Haywards Heath enjoyed a big win at Crawley. Reports below...

Counties 1 Surrey/Sussex

Eastbourne returned to action this week after the Christmas break on the road to Twickenham RFC – but could not stop the hosts registering victory.

Eastbourne take a lineout in their match away to Twickenham | Picture: John FeakinsEastbourne take a lineout in their match away to Twickenham | Picture: John Feakins
Eastbourne take a lineout in their match away to Twickenham | Picture: John Feakins

Eastbourne won the reverse fixture earlier in the season, but knew this would be a tough assignment.

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The start to the game was close, with both teams working each other out, and working the mince pies off.

Some ill discipline from both sides gave the 10s a chance to add a score to the board, with Eastbourne captain Jake Howe slotting his chance to make the score 3-3 after 10 minutes.Twickenham nudged ahead with another successful shot at goal before Howe levelled the score with his chance five minutes later.The score remained this way for 10 minutes while Twickenham's physicality and Eastbourne's fitness came head to head. The home side forged ahead with a well-worked try, using an undefended blindside to their advantage.Eastbourne attempted to hit back with their trademark fast, fit and fun style of play, before an uncharacteristic moment of madness from openside Vince Morse left the blue and golds down to 14 men with only 25 minutes on the clock.

This gave Twickenham a penalty inside Eastbourne's 22, which led to their second try, unconverted.

Haywards Heath on the charge at Crawley | Picturre contributedHaywards Heath on the charge at Crawley | Picturre contributed
Haywards Heath on the charge at Crawley | Picturre contributed

Eastbourne returned to 15 men soon after, although not for long as winger Owen Jones was given his marching orders. Going into the second half, Eastbourne would be once again down to 14, with the score 16-6.A yellow card for Twickenham early in the second half gave Eastbourne the chance they needed to hit back, and a well-worked team try with both forwards and backs involved was finished off by winger Dylan Viles, and converted by Howe, to make the score 16-13.Twickenham responded immediately with a penalty after the restart, which was followed by a further 12 unanswered points; The home side had opened a lead that Eastbourne needed to close.The opportunity to do so came from a moment of individual skill from replacement winger Stuart Baker, which forced Twickenham to offend on their own tryline.

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With Eastbourne guaranteed to score without this infringement, the referee's only decision was to award a penalty try, making the score 31-20.

These were to be Eastbourne's last points of the match as Twickenham's relentless pressure and smart decision making allowed them to add another 12 points to their tally for a final score of 43-20.The man of the match award was split between Howe and youngster Ben Gower. Howe, solid as ever from the tee showed strong leadership in attack and defence, whilse Gower, a relative newcomer to the first team set-up, showed he was more than at home in a ones jersey giving a dominant display in defence.

Eastbourne welcome Trinity RFC to Park Avenue tomorrow in a must win game. Your support on the sidelines as always would be thoroughly appreciated.

Counties 2 Sussex

A much changed Heath side, with four first team debutants, travelled to Crawley to play the fixture that had been postponed prior to the Christmas break expecting a quagmire of a pitch given all the rain that had fallen. Thankfully the Crawley pitch was well preserved and in good shape for the first Counties 2 Sussex league game of 2024 and contributed to Heath being able to play some fast flowing rugby.

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Initial Crawley pressure was snuffed out by the efficient Heath defence and from a dominant scrum in the centre of the park the ball was moved to midfield where full back Chris Neill's angled run saw him slice through for the first try of the game. Tom Wharton converted for 0-7.

An uncharacteristic mix up in the Heath midfield saw Crawley immediately strike back for 7-7. Heath tried to assert control again and more good ball from a strong scrum platform saw them attack down the left. The Crawley covering defence held firm but from a breakdown 20 metres out, blind side flanker Toby Vander came straight through the middle of the ruck and outsprinted the cover for a score under the posts which Wharton knocked over for 7-14.

Heath came straight back from the restart and when a penalty for holding on was given against Crawley they kicked deep to the corner. Second row Charlie Fenwick took the ball strongly in the line out and the ball was shipped to midfield where inside centre Christian Streeter crashed his way through tacklers and over the line for 7-19.

Stung by the score Crawley started to apply a bit of their own pressure and had a spell where they retained possession and started to use their runners in the centre. However turnover ball was seized upon by Heath and a break saw Streeter outpace the defence on the right hand side to go in for his second try of the afternoon, secure the bonus point and a 7-24 scoreline advantage.

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More good work from the Heath pack saw front foot ball kicked wide right where burly winger Aidan Baker was lurking to pick up the loose ball and burst pass his opposite number for the fifth Heath try of the afternoon and 7-31. On the stroke of half time from a ruck in the Crawley red zone, following a highly effective chase and tackle from winger Takhy Ndiaye Marrero, a long pass out to the left found Harry Edwards who was able to drive over from close quarters and notch up a try for the front row union and a 7-36 lead at the break.

The home side came out strongly after half time and played a lot of phases without making much territory and from a line out on half way Heath broke through, allowing skipper Wilf Bridges to storm into the opposition 22 where he was hauled down 5 metres out but still able to offload to the supporting Vander who crossed for his second try of the day on his 1st XV debut. Wharton added the extra two points for 7-43.

From the restart Bridges was rampaging again where he offloaded to centre Ali Darling who made a lot of headway up the middle of the pitch before slipping an inside pass to Wharton for a simple score under the posts. Wharton converted his own try for 7-50.

Unhappy at conceding in this way, Crawley suddenly started showing what they were capable of and took the game deep into Heath territory. Numerous Heath infringements saw four penalties on the bounce and the home side were eventually rewarded with a score for 14-50.

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However with 10 minutes remaining Heath were in no mood to take their foot off the gas and a clever chip through saw Wharton chase, pick up and score. This was soon followed by a break from the half way line from Ndiaye Marreo that saw him crash through the first defender and then outpace the cover for a deserved score under the posts. Streeter added the conversion as the last play of the day for a convincing 14-62 victory for the visitors.

This was a good opportunity to blow away the festive cobwebs and saw a solid performance from Heath who still have a fair bit to work on as they head into the second half of the season where next week they have a home game against Worthing Azurians. Unfortunately the Rams game against Old Reigatians was cancelled as the pitches at Reigate were waterlogged so training this week should be spicy as the full squad put their hands up for selection.

Heath 1st XV Squad: Ben Broster; Will Purdy; Harry Edwards; Charlie Fenwick; Ellis Dubois; Toby Vander; Lewis Goodall; Wilf Bridges[capt]; Jamie Thurston; Tom Wharton; Aidan Baker; Christian Streeter; Ali Darling; Takhy Ndiaye Marrero; Chris Neill; James Fleming; Kai Dolan; Austin Languedon Adams