The usual much anticipated game between these clubs which to some extent ended in disappointment for both teams who both felt they could have won, leaving the feeling that the rain and heavy conditions had a decisive influence on the outcome.
After rainfall falling most days in the preceding week, a respite on Friday allowed the pitch to dry somewhat, so despite more rainfall before and during the game, the pitch stood up remarkably well. Despite the wet ball the handling by both teams was generally good with relatively few knock-ons.
Heathfield kicked off and were to have much the better of the first half as a subdued Cranbrook barely spent any time at all in the opposition half. This was mainly because the games outstanding player, the Heathfield fullback Toby Simpson, had the better of the inevitably frequent kicking, but also was on the ball a lot as often second receiver to use his speed to make ground before astutely kicking into the gaps. Cranbrook responded as they often do with Fabian Rimmer executing some long kicks, but too often they found Simpson who was secure in his handling, cleverly turning to the side when receiving to avoid knocking on, sometimes using his feet to control the skidding ball. Some variety with the kicks today may have helped Cranbrook in this regard when the conditions suggested such a ploy would have been beneficial.
The territorial dominance of Heathfield produced an early score when a good Cranbrook clearance to touch in midfield was pulled back for passing to the kicker from outside the 22. From the scrum which Cranbrook pushed back, on 2nd phase the scrum half made an incisive break as Cranbrook bought his dummy to score close to the posts for Simpson to convert.
From the kick-off Heathfield were soon back in Cranbrook territory but for the most part not threatening, but with much of the ball as the kicking and running excellence of Simpson came to the fore. Cranbrook were generally secure in defence but made the odd handling mistake when collecting kicks. Lineouts were even, both teams normally retaining their own ball, both hookers should be commended for accurate throwing in the challenging conditions. After the first scrum where Cranbrook had an advantage, scrums became more even, Heathfield once pushing Cranbrook off their ball. Neither team got much advantage at the breakdown but Cranbrook, as is often the case seemed to concede more penalties. The referee Stewart Godwin kept firm control, necessary in the conditions, though both teams and their spectators sometimes had different interpretations.
On 24 minutes Heathfield added a 2nd try when after phases the right wing had enough strength to break the last tackle and score. They regained position as the kick off failed to go 10 and gained a penalty which from 35 metres Simpson missed. Then a bad mistake near to the posts as there was no call on an up and under nearly spelled disaster for Cranbrook, but soon Heathfield were penalised, and the danger cleared.
Cranbrook at last ran a fine miss move but Anthony Andrews, in space failed to take the pass, as the score remained at 0-12 at half time.
At half time Cranbrook replaced prop Miles Stockman, his replacement Toby Freeman going into the second row and a reshuffle taking place. Freeman was to have a significant impact on the half as in particular he showed an ability to break from the lineout, putting Cranbrook on the front foot at last. The opportunity Cranbrook sought came as the visiting strong young prop was yellow carded for reckless use of the boot. Rimmer kicked the resultant penalty to 5 metres and with the lineout secured the pack drove forward convincingly, aided by a couple of backs, for apparently hooker Josh Pankhurst to score out wide, the well struck conversion just missing. With about a half hour remaining the game was now in the balance, Cranbrook were now on top in particular making some midfield breaks as perhaps tackling was becoming tiring in the taxing conditions. Play was often on the left clubhouse side as the coaches implored the players to move the ball right. You could see why as at last right wing Wilf Selleck received the ball near to halfway but also near to touch. With the defence in place Sellick at pace shimmied left and right, also dummying to chip and chase, this gave him the space to round the defence and down the touchline, finally getting around to the posts when in goal for a sublime score, all the more special in the conditions and given that he had been a bystander up to now. Rimmer converted to level the score with about 20 minutes remaining.
Although the kick off did not go 10, the resulting centre line scrum proved no advantage to Cranbrook as a knock on denied progress. Now Heathfield had a penalty, one of a number in this phase of the game, but the ambitious kick by Simpson from halfway fell short and Rimmer cleared well nearly back to halfway. Another penalty was given for a lineout offence but from about 40 metres Simpson was again short. Ambitiously Cranbrook chose to run the ball back with secure handling and as 2 players broke tackles, Cranbrook advanced until Heathfield were penalised at the breakdown, Rimmer unerringly converted from about 35 metres straight on, for the lead and about 10 minutes remaining.
The kick off again did not quite travel 10 metres, but again Cranbrook were unable to capitalise. Another penalty was kicked to about 18 metres when Cranbrook suffered misfortune as the influential No8 Guy Crouchman had to dash to the far off changing room to seek a new contact lens. In his absence Heathfield pressed and were awarded a penalty in front of the posts for offside, duly converted by Simpson to level the score, 5 minutes remaining.
From the kick off Cranbrook got into a great position as Heathfield were penalised, Rimmer again kicking to near the 5 metre mark. Freeman secured the lineout with both hands, but it was called not straight. If it was thought this was pedantic, it should be noted a similar call was made against Heathfield earlier in the game. Cranbrook though would have been confident of scoring to possibly close out the game.
There was one last chance for Heathfield to win the game as Andrews was adjudged to have knocked on when fielding another bobbling kick through, he clearly felt he had turned so the ball went backwards! Protests backfired as the referee rightly advanced the penalty, but Simpson took it back to near the spot of the 'offence', as he lined up the potentially winning kick. It was one he would have expected to nail, but he hooked it past the post as the pressure got to him as he was honest enough to admit afterwards.
Soon the game ended with both sides feeling they had done enough to win. Wilf Sellick won the Biddenden Vineyard sponsored man of the match bottle for his outstanding try.
The team was 1 Miles Stockman, 2 Josh Pankhurst, 3 David Lock, 4 Tom Hamplett, 5 Josh Forknall, 6 Tom Humphries, 7 Hamish Gillanders captain, 8 Guy Crouchman, 9 K Bottle, 10 Owen Chilvers, 11 Anthony Andrews, 12 Fabian Rimmer, 13 Jack Lewis, 14 Wilf Sellick, 15 Luca Rosenberg.
Subs all used,16 Bear Pearce, 17 Toby Freeman, 18 Dylan Gibson.
Match report by Philip Rimmer