By Colin Whiteley
Heathfield and Waldron RFC 31 – 19 Thanet Wanderers RUFC
There were two new faces in the Thanet squad with a debut for Luke Browning after good performances for the 2s and for Hoani (Aitch) French whose debut was delayed by injury after he moved to the Thanet area. Tom Walton and Marius Thompson were excluded by injury and props Danny Clement and Gully Goodall with lock forward Chris Gregory and three-quarters Louis Thompson and Max Rogers had family commitments.
The two debutants brought the total of players who have represented the first XV in the first six games of the season to thirty-six which is not helpful to coaches trying to build continuity within the side or to the 2s who lose players to the senior side.
The playing surface was saturated but just playable although the heavy rain continued to fall during the first half. Mid Sussex based, Heathfield and Waldron (H&W) were quickly into their stride and after a penalty set good field position, opened the scoring under the posts for a 7-0 lead after two minutes, A promising Wanderers attack ended with a penalty conceded for holding on. Number eight, Brett Scott made good metres with a powerful carry and Mike Whitehead was making light of the conditions with good line-out throws. 22 minutes had been played when a well judged interception for H&W gave the catcher an easy run in under the posts from his own half to make the score 14-0 to the hosts. Andy Dolan suffered the recurrence of an injury and was replaced on the wing by Cam Pond.
Wanderers mounted some good drives and were playing with an advantage when recalled for a penalty that saw them set a line-out close to the opposition line. The throw in was good and a well managed catch and drive ended with a try for joint-captain Sam Taylor. Charlie Panteli’s conversion attempt was well struck but went wide and Thanet were on the board, after 30 minutes 14-5. Both sides’ attacking instincts were undone by the teeming rain but Thanet’s lock forward , Lenny Brown revelled in the rain and pinched an opposition line-out to set a good break. Tom Stevens’ tackle forced a knock on and stopped imminent danger but there was no further score for either side before half-time.
Recently a Wanderers Colt, Dennis Davies had played well in his favoured back row position: he took a break at the beginning of the second half and Aitch French joined the mud fest. The rain had relented as the second half began and the hosts leapt high to catch an attempted Thanet clearance before touching down within the first minute of the half. There was no conversion but H&W led 19-5. Six minutes later another interception led to the fourth try and a bonus point for the host side.
French was showing good energy in the back row and appeared to have scored but the referee had seen a double movement before touchdown and H&W cleared their lines. Around the hour mark, a brilliantly controlled drive from Thanet’s pack ended with a second try for Taylor. Panteli made an excellent conversion for Thanet to trail 26-12. Minutes later more excellent work from the pack saw Mike Whitehead touch down for his maiden first XV try.
Another quality conversion from Panteli made the score 26-19. Oskar Wallace came on from the bench but French was shown yellow for a deliberate knock-down and with both props injured, Wanderers had to opt for uncontested scrums. Thanet conceded a final try when a defensive slip helped the hosts to touch down an unconverted try and lead 31-19. Wanderers fought hard for a further try but could not cross the line and there was no further score.
Thanet’s pack put in a fine performance today in difficult conditions. Joint Captain, Nick Herbert paid tribute particularly the front five. Warren Riddell- Bloomfield played well, out of position, at hooker and Andy Letts’ consistency in the engine room is astounding. The conditions were difficult for the ball handlers of the team but the depleted team put in a performance to be proud of.