Horsham edge derby contest with Heath in appalling conditions
Horsham edged a tight derby contest in appalling conditions against Haywards Heath at Coolhurst
Horsham edged a tense contest 13-12 at Coolhurst against local rivals Haywards Heath in their first league game of the new season played in appalling conditions.
Heath have bounced back strongly with three successive promotions after having incurred a relegation of five divisions following multiple player departures and the club having to reset itself at a lower level. During the last three years they have developed a winning habit and fully expected to come away from Horsham with the spoils.
Not since the 1998-99 season have Horsham played a league fixture against Haywards Heath due to the visitors spending most of the intervening time playing rugby at a higher level and it is great to see the local rivalry recommence. As a result Heath were something of an unknown quantity. Indeed with Pulborough also being promoted this means that there are five Sussex sides in London 2 South East which is the highest number for many years and will certainly stimulate interest.
As if it was pre-ordained, after a fine day the rain started as the game kicked-off and got progressively stronger as the game went on, and then the skies cleared at the final whistle. The driving rain forced multiple handing errors and the quality of the game suffered as a result which was unfortunate because both sides had intended to play an all court game.
Horsham had good early pressure but spurned the opportunity to kick points when they became available, ambitiously going for the try but lost control of the ball in the line-out drive, which could have proved costly in the final reckoning.
The Green and Whites were fortunate that Heath fly-off Peter Kerins had an off day with his kicks at goal, in what was always going to be a tight contest, starting with missing a penalty in front of the posts after 14 minutes.
Shortly afterwards Declan Nwachukwu fielded a loose kick from Heath and returned it with interest to force a line out on the 22. Following fine phase play and putting pace on the ball, Horsham secured a penalty and after Mike Watts took a quick tap with Heath repeatedly infringing the Green and Whites were awarded a penalty try.
Heath came back with a fine chip and chase requiring a great cover tackle from Nwachukwu to prevent a certain score. A long clearance kick from Tom Johnson which was chased hard by Joe Wilde created another attacking position in the Heath 22 and from the next breakdown incurred a yellow card for another infringement, as Horsham started playing again at a higher tempo and a better structure. Johnson kicked the penalty on 37 minutes and Horsham extended their lead to 10-0.
Heath immediately responded and following another seemingly straightforward missed kick at goal there was a moment of controversy. Horsham thought the ball had gone dead over the goal line, and Watts was tackled as he ran the ball to the 22 metre line. Play was allowed to go on and Ryan Maguire spilled the ball under pressure as Horsham rather ambitiously tried to run the ball out from their own try line in difficult conditions for handling. Nwachukwu was yellow carded for encroachment and from the set piece on the stroke of half time scrum half Brett Menefy squeezed over for a fine try. The conversion was missed and Heath narrowed the deficit to 10-5 going in to the break.
Heath were now in the ascendancy and from the restart after several phases of play and taking advantage of having the extra man, scored an excellent try through skipper Nick Main in the corner. Jack Best took over the kicking duties and converted from the touch line to take a 12-10 lead.
Horsham were awarded a penalty on 48 minutes which was calmly slotted by Johnson to retake a 13-12 lead. For the remainder of the match, the Green and Whites were more in the ascendancy but were not able to get out of second gear. With the game on a knife-edge, a couple of try scoring opportunities were missed in atrocious conditions and in the face of strong defence by Heath, with always the threat of the visitors breaking away to score.
In the end, on the balance of possession and territory Horsham just about deserved to edge this tight and hard fought contest even though Heath scored two good tries of their own.
A relieved Horsham head coach Nick Stocker said: “A tough opening game as expected from an old rivalry. Heath shaded the scrum until adjustments were made late on and the lineout became a lottery as the weather worsened. With no quality set piece we couldn't get into our patterns and although we offered more threat in attack, our desire to play too much rugby resulted in too many basic mistakes when handling. This gave Heath repeated opportunities to clear any threats.
There were several opportunities that went missing that on another day would have been converted and we will need to be better at converting pressure to points as we go further into the season.
On the positive side, having gone behind early in the second half, we managed to up the tempo and get a penalty which put us back in front and with the last 20 mins reduced to a comedy of errors, we closed the game out by pinning Heath into their 22m and preventing any field position. An ugly win but a win nonetheless!”
Horsham next travel to Dulwich to face Old Alleynians on 16 September, who had a convincing win against Charlton Park in the opening round of fixtures.
Horsham: Watts; Gonzague, Bell J, Wilde, Nwachukwu; Johnson T (capt), Steggles (Blewitt); Fairs, Lowe, Bell N; Clarkson (Goward), Maguire (Brady); Tredgett R, Smith, Tredgett M
Photo by warwick pics.com