Despite the loss a fine game.
A scoreline like this would normally mean a report starting with words like " a bad day at the office" . . . but on this occasion it couldn't have been further from the truth. The day didn't get off to the best of starts however. Work commitments meant that Mick HANKS, Gary MOORE and Dan INGHAM were unavailable. The NELSON twins were on holiday, Danny GREENWOOD and John LYONS were attending a Steve Gately charity memorial lunch and SMURF was unavailable to travel the great and arduous distance to YM, due to the potentially imminent arrival of a new petite Smurf. Thus at 12:45pm there were only 13 players available to contest with YM. Luckily, Colt Steve RICHARDSON, who was changed and ready to go with Spud's 2nd team, agreed to step up to plate. Unfortunately, once the game was over Steve realised all his change of clothes were still hung up back at Heath, DOH!
On arrival at YM it became very clear, very quickly, that they had no 2nd team fixture and only 3 of the 3rd team that played us last year were recognised. So, in order to redress the balance, Dave OWEN (father of Gaz OWEN) was lured from the bar, provided with a pair shorts previously worn by Dusty HARE and handed the honour of the number 9 shirt.
The team selected were, TANK, Paul SHAW and Jimmy LI in the front row. Phil BAILEY and Barry SYKES in the second row with Emlyn JAMES reverting to Number 8 and Steve RICHARDSON and the ever-young Stuart LAWLOR on the flanks. Dave OWEN at 9, Paddy KERR at 10, with Simon LOCKWOOD and Lee SMITH slotting in to the centre, ably supported with Gary CRAWSHAW and Pete SMITH on the wings and Gaz OWEN at full back. Sandra KERR performed the roll of watergirl, touch judge, physio and commentator.
On a heavy YM pitch, sloping from left to right, and top to bottom, KERR kicked off up hill towards the clubhouse. The first twenty minutes were played between the two 22 metre lines of both sides, with YM probing the solid Heath defence but finding it a folly to go to ground as JAMES, TANK and Steve RICHARDSON were continually cleaning out and turning over ball. This was then turned into good ball out by Dave OWEN, who showed you truly never lose it, with clean crisp passing from the bottom of the ruck. KERR, LOCKWOOD and Lee SMITH adapted between crash balls and balls to hand, which released CRAWSHAW and Pete SMITH on several occasions to make good ground along the wings.
HEATH were rewarded for their efforts with a penalty for holding on to the ball by the YM 10, 20 yards out but in front of the posts. KERR took the kick, demonstrating that his cruciate ligament repair cannot come soon enough, and missed it by a country mile. From that point on he handed the kicking duties to JAMES who found touch with aplomb for the entire afternoon. The lineouts against HEATH were also proving fruitful to the lads, with JAMES and RICHARDSON stealing several YM throws, and more notably LAWLOR doing likewise, and providing a master-class in how to protect the ball and present it to the number 9 (Colts take note).
It was pointed out more than once that, as the half went on, YM were becoming more reluctant to take the ball into a resilient HEATH defensive line, and instead would pass to their very young and fit central backs, who ultimately would get upended and dumped by LOCKWOOD, Lee SMITH, CRAWSHAW and Pete SMITH. Our tackling was relentless, hard, generally fair and in most cases involved two players to take both legs and upperbody. This had the effect of YM choosing to kick for goal at almost every opportunity presented anywhere near the HEATH 22.
Eventually though some sublime play by the YM 9 and 10 (who quite frankly were their MOTM's) saw the 10 pop a reverse ball to the centre who made a good angle to split the HEATH line and score from 22 yards out and pop it between the posts. The kick was converted. All this did though was galvanise the HEATH who immediately returned the ball to YM, recovered it from another turnover ball and spent the next 5 minutes between the YM 22 and 10 driving and mauling towards the scent of a try. Again good quick ball from Dave OWEN provided CRAWSHAW with a chance in the corner, stopped 5 yards short. Good clearing out from LI and JAMES presented Dave OWEN with a clean ball to pop to KERR who burst the first tackle, and drove on through the second towards the line. LAWLOR, LOCKWOOD and RICHARDSON provided the help for KERR to maintain the momentum and cross the line only to be thwarted by four YM players holding him up. Despite the efforts of HEATH we couldn't get the ball down. Shortly afterwards the whistle blew for half time.
The second half was fought in similar vein, with the addition of good piercing long kicks from KERR and JAMES testing the YM full back and allowing opportunities for LOCKWOOD, Pete SMITH, CRAWSHAW and Gaz OWEN to chase down. However, as the half continued it was becoming clear the YM 2nds, sorry 3rds, were much fitter and were beginning to create some gaps in the HEATH defence. This developed into last ditch cover tackles between LAWLOR and LOCKWOOD, or JAMES and CRAWSHAW, or KERR and Gaz OWEN, or Pete SMITH and RICHARDSON. Inevitably the work of the YM 9 and 10 worked to their favour again with a well worked set piece releasing the centre to squeeze between a gap and score from 15 yards just to the left of the posts. The try was duly converted.
Still the courage and determination of the HEATH was undiminished with excellent set pieces being completed and yards gained deep into the YM half throughout. All that evaded us was the prize of a try. Even more unbelievably, no penalties within kicking distance were awarded, which showed the good spirit the game was being played that so much of the game was open and fair.
Ultimately, the contest was reversed deep into the HEATH half, and unfortunately a couple of penalties against HEATH resulted in firstly JAMES an then Pete SMITH advising the referee of recent changes in law, which were interpreted by the ref as another recent change in the law . . . . back 10 for mouthing off. The pressure was absorbed by HEATH, but two further converted penalties were picked up by the YM 10.
With 15 minutes to go, one of only two controversial moments of the game occurred. With the YM pack driving a maul towards the HEATH line a stalemate was established on the 5 yard. The ref took three HEATH players to one side, apparently having given a penalty for coming in from the side. The number YM 9 pulled the ball out crossed the line, without any attempt to stop him and scored. The HEATH lads all looked at each other, and it didn't need to be said. . "play to the whistle". The conversion was missed.
Paul SHAW then topped off his contribution to the game with another fine tackle around the legs of the YM centre, only to be met with the knee of an assisting YM player straight in the face. There was blood, but the question being asked was, "is it his nose that's wonky or is his nose straight and he just has a wonky face?". It became clear when asked how many fingers were being held up and he replied "Wednesday", that his day was done. Physio Sandra called the shots and said he needed to be pulled off, and it was the fastest he had run all day towards the touchline. SHAW was replaced by a YM player, and our thanks for that. Scrums remained contested with KERR dropping to hooker.
The last 5 minutes were a continuation of the whole match, tackle, clean out, pass, run, tackle, clean out, pass, run, and tackle. Then the second controversial incident. Steve RICHARDSON making good yards was tackled by the YM prop, who lifted him clean off his feet drove him back then let him go head first into the ground. To RICHARDSON's credit he got up rubbed off the dirt and shook hands with the prop. However the ref saw this as dangerous play and removed the prop from the contest Ö. harsh? Rules are rules and if that had been the first 5 minutes I'm sure HEATH would have agreed 100%. NOTE - this was not a dirty cheating type of game at all, it was a good contest of rugby and that was reflected in the quality of play throughout.
The changing room afterwards was a little solemn as we had worked, worked, worked without getting any gain. The team spirit was there though and unusually there was no aftermatch arguing; just praise for each otherís tackles or runs etc. KERR, captain for the day, delivered an Oscar merited speech which drew a few tears, and potentially a desire to go out next week and play the London Wasps such is our belief and enjoyment of the wonderful game. Man of the match awards . . .this week goes to HEATH 3rds.