Horsham eventually won this highly competitive contest which was both a London South East 3 League game and a semi-final in the Bob Rogers Sussex Cup.
The Green and Whites now go on to face either Crowborough or Haywards Heath in the final on May 9th, and the possibility of a league and cup double for the first time in the club’s history.
The victory maintained Horsham’s nineteen point lead over third placed Bromley and two more wins from the final six games will ensure promotion.
This was the first of a tricky set of fixtures to be navigated for Horsham where they face a succession of sides in the top half of the table, and Heathfield & Waldron, who themselves are in a rich vein of form being on an eight match unbeaten run stretching back to mid November, did not disappoint the large crowd anticipating a tough match.
When the sides met at Cross in Hand in October Horsham inflicted a crushing defeat on their opponents but it was a far more sturdy Heathfield & Waldron outfit they faced this time playing with a confidence borne from their long sequence of wins.
Heathfield & Waldron started playing with a greater intensity than Horsham, and with a slight wind advantage soon had the hosts under pressure. Ken Hellier missed an early penalty attempt at goal, but Heathfield & Waldron kept coming in waves and despite important tackles from Richard Tredgett and Scott Price, Horsham could not stem the tide and after 9 minutes Heathfield & Waldron moved the ball wide for Ollie Brown to score a well deserved try which was unconverted.
Straight from the restart Arun Thompson made a great break deep into the Heathfield & Waldron half but the support could not get to him quick enough. Horsham were making a series of uncharacteristic errors and were finding it difficult to put their normal patterns of play together, with the game being predominantly played in their half, and on 34 minutes Hellier slotted a penalty to extend the visitors lead to 8-0.
Horsham needed to bounce back quickly to get back in to the game and after some great continuity Tom Johnson rounded off a flowing move with a fine try under the posts which was unconverted.
There continued to be a lack of precision, unforced errors and too many mistakes in Horsham’s play and the hosts went into the break 8-5 down.
The half time team talk from Horsham coach Nick Stocker focused on attaining greater control and looking after the ball and in the second half the hosts started to ramp up the pressure.
Heathfield & Waldron were caught offside but although Johnson missed his kick at goal the balance of the game had swung in Horsham’s favour. On 49 minutes following a powerful scrum, Josh Mills scored an unconverted try following a great break from Matt Stone, to take the Green and Whites into a 10-8 lead for the first time in the game.
The visitors came close to scoring but were penalised for holding on in an isolated attack, but in the second half the penalty count was in Horsham’s favour as Heathfield & Waldron regularly infringed, and Johnson, who had been having an off day with his kicking so far, notched two vital penalties to secure the win.
Horsham coach Nick Stocker was complimentary about his opponents. “This was always going to be a tough game and Heathfield & Waldron are clearly a very good side. We lacked composure, especially in the first half. We made errors at the base of the scrum, spilt a lot of ball and gave them possession. As the game went on we then managed to string some phases together and our scrum started to dominate.
Heathfield & Waldron are a good experienced unit, disrupted us and prevented us from getting our driving maul going.
To start with we struggled with the referee’s interpretations but we started to get it together and when he began to pick up on their offside in midfield and feeding in the scrums we started to look a lot better side going forward.
We were below par on the day against a good team and we had to show character to grind out a result.”
Horsham’s next game is away to third placed Bromley on 21st February.
Horsham: Bell, Mills, Gibbs, Ordidge, Fuller; Johnson, Rush; Talbot (capt), Stone (Fisher 67), Barber; Green, Goward; Price (Pirt 57), Thompson, Tredgett