Heath tough it out for close-run victory.
Heath Firsts. In view of the heavy downpours during the week running up to this game, the West Vale main pitch was not fit to play, so the game was moved onto the smaller but firmer second pitch. This showing the benefit of the RFU inspired improvements and reseeding.
A couple of minutes into the game, Heath conceded their first penalty, which their opponents decided to run - with their forwards being used as a battering ram to the line. However, Heath’s tight defence kept them out and forced a handling mistake, from which the ball was cleared by standoff Ryan Piper. This set the tone for the rest of the game.
Heath then spent the next 20 minutes in their own half, until another relieving kick from Piper took them to Knottingley’s 22 and a line out, at which the West Vale men took the ball and in turn put the visitors under pressure. From this a penalty was awarded and 3 points taken, by Piper.
From the restart, Knottingley tried driving down the middle, but were forced back by powerhouse tackling from Martin White and Chris Merrick at centre, plus further well-placed clearance kicks. A scrum on the visitor’s 10-metre line saw Ian Downsborough pick up at 8 and drive down the blind side. The ball was then switched open by supporting scrum half Richard Cole, losing the Knottingley defence in the meantime, with secondrow Alistair Gordon collecting and blasting his way to the line out wide. Piper converted from the touchline to put Heath 10 – 0 up with five minutes of the half remaining.
Heath contained the pressure, in normal time, but play went on with Knottingley taking advantage of a poor clearance kick and collecting the resulting line out ball. From this they mounted a forward drive to the line. When stopped, the ball was released and Knottingley’s standoff, Stanfield, sidestepped his way under the posts for a converted try, on the whistle. 10 – 7 to Heath.
The second half started with a fantastic run from Heath’s fullback, Giles Hetherington. This took the home side right to the Knottingley line, where the ball was popped out to supporting winger Andy White, for his first touch of it in the game, and a fine try out wide. Piper again converted from the touchline for the score to look safer at 17 – 7, but with 35 minutes still to go.
Some more good running rugby saw hooker Oliver Wilby break free from a lineout and link with the backs for play to move 50 yards downfield, but Heath spilled the final pass and failed to take any points.
Knottingley were now finding themselves under pressure and a great lineout take by Gordon, set up Heath’s backs for a well worked move, but again the final pass let things down. More pressure, this time from winger Brown linking with Hetherington, nearly produce a score for the home side but Knottingley’s defence held up well and no points come from the attack.
It was then Knottingley’s turn to apply some pressure, basically for the first time 15 minutes into the second half. This resulted in a forward drive over Heath’s line, but astute defence kept the potential scorer on his back and prevented a touch down. Two quick scrums let the visitors continue their attack, but ferocious tackling saw them lose the ball, which Piper cleared at least 50 metres down the pitch. Knottingley then lost their line out, which allowed Piper the chance to collect 3 points from a well-taken drop. 20 – 7 on 25 minutes.
Heath then seemed to be asleep at the restart, where they knocked on. More pressure produced a penalty for Knottingley, who again went for touch and a line, rather than taking the kickable three points. And again a chance was wasted and the visitors collected no points. However, they persisted with this tactic, taking their next penalty to the line and ultimately and finally collecting 7 points from a converted try. 20 - 14 on 30 minutes.
Realising time was running out and that the match was still winnable, Knottingley stepped up their game, but continued to mount their attacks via their big pack. Heath were also spurred on and one final powerful run from centre Martin White took them back into the visitor’s 22, where Knottingley conceded a penalty and Heath took another three points from Piper’s boot. 23 – 14, with 5 minutes remaining.
Knottingley continue to pursue victory via their forwards and another eschewed penalty kick produced a line from which the pack mounted one last gasp attack on the West Vale men’s line. This had the desired effect and a converted try followed, putting the score at 23 – 21 with only minutes remaining.
Heath needed to play those minutes in the Knottingley half but spent a nervous few seconds defending under their own posts, where a drop by the visitors would have secured them the game. However, they held out and a fine penalty kick out of pressure saw them take the resulting line and Piper have another drop at goal himself. This, unfortunately, just went wide though the referee blew for time as it did. 23 – 21 to Heath.
Excellent and determined defence, coupled with speedy and decisive play in attack, saw Heath produce the goods on this occasion. In the end it was a close call, but the points went to the West Vale men.