Heath narrowly lose out in re-enactment of Custer’s last stand
1. Kerr 6. Wilby 11 Whitworth
2. Puttick 7. Dawes 12 Bruce
3. Morley 8. Wheelwright 13 Ali
4. James 9. Cole 14 Fox
5. Dance 10 Beever 15 Nicholson
With last minute withdrawals and call ups to the first team, Heath were down to the bare bones at Keighley, for our first game on their new 3G pitch. With a squad that was sparse on backs, Heaths forwards were “glad” to see the wide expansive pitch, made for fast running rugby, upon arrival.
Heath kicked off with only one forward on the bench and Whitworth moved from hooker to left wing. After only 5 minutes, Heath lost Beever to a hamstring injury, which seemed to have been caused by twisting on the pitch, Cole had to quickly reshuffle the team, with McFadzean coming into flanker. Ali moved to 10 and Dawes went to right wing, a position he hadn’t played since U12 level.
Keighley were quick to exploit the wide areas, moving the ball away from their forwards, who were being dominated by their Heath counterparts, through to their speedy backs. A kick through bounced favourably for the chasing winger and he crossed over for the opening score, the extras were missed. Heath were still trying to reorganise in the back line and tried to play through the pack, but each time ball was secured, handling errors gave possession back to Keighley. They again used pace and power in the backline to evade several poor tackles and scored under the posts giving an easy chance to add the conversion. 12-0 Heath were in danger of being blown away and had to regroup, Bruce moved to 10, Ali outside him and Nicholson moved to full back from where Bruce had been covering. This seemed to give the team a better shape and the tide began to turn. Heath were using the excellent underfoot conditions to push their opponents back at the scrum, and moves were knitting together in the backs. Whitworth chased down a chip through and was unlucky to be pushed into touch only 5m out. The ball was cleared but only to the 22 from the lineout. James secured the ball and was driven forward by the pack, before offloading to Kerr, as he approached the line in the maul, Keighley were adjudged to have deliberately pulled the move down, and the official showed no sympathy in awarding a penalty try. 12-7
Wheelwright collected the restart and went on a great run but lost the ball in contact, Keighley kicked forward from the scrum, and Dawes executed a great take from the high ball and droved forward supported by Ali and Bruce, Keighley managed to hack the ball clear as the ruck was forming, and the ball was once again at the Heath 22. The lineout held strong with a great one-handed take by James, with the ball making its way to Bruce, who executed a great kick forcing a knock on from Keighley. Ali was then released on a charge, setting up a chance for Cole to chip through for a lineout to attack. Heath forced a penalty offence and with Cole taking the option of a 5m lineout, the pack drove again, and this time Kerr managed to cross unimpeded, for the levelling score. Cole added the extras with an excellent kick from near the touchline and Heath moved into a deserved but unlikely lead 12-14
Then fate struck again, Whitworth pulled up in a run, with a groin issue and it looked like Heath may have to weaken the pack and go down to 14 men, but he stayed on the pitch, showing great dedication hobbling where he could. Keighley seemed oblivious to the issues Heath were facing, luckily not getting the ball to the wings when they should. Heroic tackling from Morley, Dance and Wilby was also pushing the Keighley pack back, and with Puttick running himself into the ground, requiring regular treatment on his knee Heath saw out the rest of the half to turn around ahead.
Half Time 12- 14
The half time talk was simple, with no replacements available and Whitworth and Puttick walking wounded, Wheelwright and Cole impressed that Heath should keep things simple and in the pack when they could. Any expansive play would give Keighley the advantage
At last Heath got some luck early in the 2nd period, with a Keighley player seeing yellow for a high tackle. Puttick and Kerr had strong runs which setup another chance for Cole to punt forward but the ball just evaded the chasing Wilby and Dawes, and went in touch in goal. Heath however turned the scrum over and then forced a further penalty, Puttick received the tap and powered over for a further score 12-19 the extras were missed.
Heath were really tiring now, and Keighley pressed from the restart, taking advantage of a penalty they themselves drove over for an easily convertible chance. 19-19
Keighley were now seeing the advantage of several fresh pairs of legs including one of their highly rated academy players at full back who was linking up well, with the others in the backs. They had at last realised that out on the flanks was the place to play, Dawes and Whitworth were trying their best in unfamiliar positions, with the latter trying to remain as mobile as possible. Puttick had another great run down the flank, but his kick just went into touch before he could offload, and he went down again needing treatment. The game moved into the final 15 minutes, the supporters urged Heath on, realising the herculean effort they were putting in. Keighley now back to full strength, attacked along the line again, finding space they had an overlap and crossed to move once again ahead, they missed the chance of adding the conversion 24-19.
Heath lifted themselves again from the restart, unwilling to give up. Bruce hacking clear from a dropped ball, managed to win the chase against the covering backs and with a great dive managed to touch the ball down in goal, just before the ball crossed the dead ball line, Heath were level 24-24
The game moved into the final minutes and after all the effort the whole squad had put in, a draw would have been a fair result, but Keighley had other ideas, with the official indicating that this was the last play, they again squeezed down the line to cross and win in the final seconds 29-24. Time was blown, and the players sank to the knees, in exhaustion as much as disappointment.
Mick Bruce commented after the match,
“…well done lads, the performance was outstanding and was the bravest performance I have seen since watching the team play over the last few years. Players playing out of position, playing injured, no subs, no complaints just got one with it and I felt very proud to witness. Well done boys”
I can certainly echo those thoughts, and to come away with three points (1 for a loss, one for 4 tries and losing within 7) was something to be proud of. For the rest of the squad who were not present, we will need your support and help in coming weeks, I am sure that a couple of the injuries will keep players out for at least a couple of games, we remain 2nd and with the final push we can stay there or even top the table