Haywards Heath pip Shoreham to Sussex rugby title – but it couldn’t have been closer

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It was all to play for when Counties 2 Sussex’s top two teams, Shoreham and Haywards Heath, met in the final game. Shoreham won the game – but bonus points meant Haywards Heath took the title. Here, below, is how both camps saw the epic end to the season...

Shoreham 29 Heath 24 – the Heath verdict

It might have been nerves at the prospect of winning the title, tiredness during the last league game of the season away at Shoreham or the strength of the opposition but somehow Heath 1st XV managed to compose themselves towards the end of the match to secure the two bonus points needed to clinch the league title and snatch it from the hands of Saturday’s opponents.

It wasn’t pretty to watch but it was nothing less than Heath deserved for some great committed rugby all season with a squad that is an essential blend of youth and experience and will only go on to improve next season.

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It was a cracking battle between Shoreham and Haywards Heath | Picture: warwickpics.comIt was a cracking battle between Shoreham and Haywards Heath | Picture: warwickpics.com
It was a cracking battle between Shoreham and Haywards Heath | Picture: warwickpics.com

The first ten minutes of the game saw Shoreham camped in the visitor’s half and although Heath put up a strong resistance to the immense pressure from the home side, it was no surprise when Shoreham broke through to score the first try, missing the conversion to take a 5-0 lead.

Heath responded with some strong rugby of their own as the forwards showed their trademark speed and strength and with William Galbraith-Gibbons looking set to score under the posts he was taken out by a high tackle, resulting in a penalty try and a 5-7 scoreline.

The remainder of the first period saw some combative rugby from both sides with Heath scrum half Jamie Thurston breaking through Shoreham’s defence to score an unconverted try that left the match standing at 5-12 to Heath at half time.

Shoreham started the second half with determination and focus, something Heath had lost as they conceded two tries in succession, both of which were converted as the home side took the lead and control at 19-12.

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Shoreham and Haywards Heath go for glory | Picture: warwickpics.comShoreham and Haywards Heath go for glory | Picture: warwickpics.com
Shoreham and Haywards Heath go for glory | Picture: warwickpics.com

Heath regrouped and Jack Lucas made a strong run for the line, scoring for the visitors but the try went unconverted meaning Heath was still trailing at 19-17. Things were getting tense on both sides.

Despite a renewed energy from Heath, in this see-saw match Shoreham scored next and an easy conversion meant the score moved to 26-17 and at this point the home side had the league title in their hands.

But the visitors were not yet done and nor were their title hopes as Christian Streater scored a signature try for Heath to secure a try bonus point and the conversion meant that the score stood at 26-24 during the final 10 minutes of the match. It could still go either way however when Shoreham won a penalty as Heath transgressed they opted to kick for the posts to take the score to 29-24.

The restart was tense but Heath defended strongly and snuffed out any remaining Shoreham pressure and so it remained 29-24 at the full time whistle meaning Heath had secured a losing bonus point as well as a four try bonus point and in doing do had won the Counties 2 Sussex league by just one point.

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With a fantastic new Clubhouse emerging at Whitemans Green, rugby on and off the pitch is looking bright for Haywards Heath RFC next season. There remains a home fixture against Old Haileyburians in the Papa Johns Community Cup at Whitemans Green on Saturday (13 April, 3pm). Anyone interested in finding out more about senior rugby at Heath and pre-season training this coming summer should contact [email protected].

Capping off a brilliant season for the Club, both the Heath Under-16s and the Colts are in the finals of their respective Sussex Cups on Sunday 21 April at Brighton RFC – the first of the two matches kicking off at 12.30pm.

Heath 1st XV squad: Euan Greaves- Smith; Will Purdy; James Fleming; Dan Shotton; Charlie Fenwick; Ellis Dubois; Wilf Bridges [capt]; Lewis Goodall; Jamie Thurston; Christian Streater; Matt Cains; Jack Lucas; William Galbraith-Gibbons; Oli Simpson; Tom Wharton; Elliot Higgin; Chris Neil; Tom Bishop

Shoreham 29 Heath 24 – the Shoreham verdict

Shoreham welcomed league leaders Haywards Heath, for a highly anticipated 1st vs 2nd place contest for the last league game of the season.

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Haywards Heath needed only a point from the game to win the league.

However, not only did Shoreham have an unbeaten run of 11 games - and an undefeated run at home they were desperate to maintain - they knew that if they could deny their rivals the crucial point then a bonus point win would see them crowned as league champions in just their second season in Sussex rugby's top tier.

With so much at stake for both teams and a huge crowd making their presence felt, the game started at a frantic pace. Shoreham took the early ascendancy with full back Connor Fairhall going over in the corner following a well worked set play.

The game was very evenly matched, however Shoreham’s ill discipline began to afford the away side a prolonged stay in the Shoreham 22. An accumulation of penalties near the Shoreham line saw a penalty try awarded and a yellow card shown to winger Danny James for a high tackle.

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With Shoreham down to 14 men, Haywards Heath eventually exploited the extra space, scoring a further try at the end of the sin bin period, extending their lead to 5 - 12 lead going into half-time.

With only 40 minutes left of the 23/24 league season, and returned to a full complement of 15, Shoreham turned a corner and were now the ones dictating play. Strong carries from the forward pack and fantastic tactical kicking from fly half Toby Gale pinned Haywards Heath back into their own half.

It was now the away team’s turn for some ill discipline near their own try line, and a quick tap penalty from Shoreham’s veteran number 8 Gav Cox saw him score from close range.

Despite a very back and forth game, continued pressure from Shoreham’s forwards saw Captain Mark Lavery crash over for Shoreham's 3rd try from a pick-and-go. Shoreham were now only 1 try away from the crucial bonus point.

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With this in the forefront of Shorehams minds, they were perhaps a little guilty of ignoring their defensive responsibilities, which allowed some of Haywards Heath’s big carriers to swing the momentum again in their favour, and this saw them score under the posts.

Each team had their chances to take control of the game in what was proving to be a fast and entertaining game for the 200+ crowd, but eventually Shoreham’s backline ran a wonderful move that was halted just short of the tryline, but allowed scrum half Sean Shepherd to snipe in for Shorehams 4th and bonus point try.

Now all Shoreham had to do to secure the league title was defend their line and see out the game to deny Haywards Heath the bonus point they required.

However, the away team had other ideas, showing why they went into this game as league leaders. They simultaneously broke the Shoreham line and their faithful supporters’ hearts by scoring the 4th try needed to position Haywards Heath as champions with 15 minutes to play.

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Despite the disappointment that was apparent amongst the team, Shoreham saw out the rest of the game with grit, passion, and pride. A penalty from the boot of Toby Gale ensured that despite the disappointment of not being crowned league champions, their home undefeated record remained intact for the season, with the game ending 29-24 to the home team.

Man of the match was Toby Gale for his fantastic game management and kicking game.

This week Shoreham travel to Worthing Azurians, in the Sussex cup semi final, hoping to get another opportunity to play for some silverware, at the end of what has been a fantastic season for the men in green and gold after this week's disappointment.

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