Heath Under 17s Colts progressed to the Northern Division Final (National quarter final) with a classy performance in a 30-12 victory against a strong Stockport outfit.
In one of the biggest games West Vale has seen in recent years, and undoubtedly the biggest game in the four season life span for the current Heath Under 17s setup, the home team were faced by a Stockport side that had undergone avid preparation in an attempt to disrupt all areas of the Heath game.
Despite having a slightly depleted squad, including the absence of the influential Sam Pollard, Heath started on the front foot with the entire pack setting up a solid platform for the backs to move the ball through the hands and quickly settle into their game.
The pace and creativity of the Heath backline exposed holes in the Stockport defence right from the outset and quick ball spun out wide to the touchline sent Yorkshire centre, Jack Sheldrake, racing down the wing for his second try in as many games.
Despite being unlucky with the following conversion, flyhalf Ezra Hinchliffe controlled possession with confidence, testing the Stockport back three with the boot on numerous occasions and forcing several knock-ons.
Stockport’s attempts to drive their way into Heath territory were constantly help up by tireless scrum work from the front three of Tom Kilner, James Wilkinson and Lewis Foxton, and by regular disruption of the Stockport lineout from both second row Richard Brambles and number eight and captain Stephen Hare.
Scrum half Peter Birkett orchestrated breaks for both Hinchliffe and centre Lewis McKenzie, that set up a scrum on the Stockport 22 from which Hare and Birkett utilised the blindside overlap, feeding Luke Denton whose dive to score in the corner was overruled by the touch judge.
Heath continued to apply the pressure, winning a penalty near the halfway line which Hinchliffe slotted clinically and it wasn’t long before another superb solo effort from Sheldrake, converted by Hinchliffe, put the home side 15-0 to the good.
However, following Sheldrake’s score, an in-goal altercation led to fullback Jack Crabtree being sin-binned for 10 minutes resulting in a prolonged period of pressure from both the Stockport forwards and backs, testing the reshuffled and depleted Heath back line. Stockport’s exposure of Heath’s defence eventually took its toll, the away side mauling a catch and drive over the line to leave the score 15-5 to Heath at half time.
Back up to 15 men for the second half, Heath once again deployed kicking tactics to consistently reapply the pressure on to the Stockport backline, resulting in another penalty which was finely stroked over by Hinchliffe from out wide.
Man of the match Sheldrake, and also Hinchliffe and McKenzie, continued to breach the Stockport defensive line; supported in both attack and defence by the back three of Luke Matthews, Crabtree and Denton.
A perfectly timed lineout on the Stockport 40 metre line once again saw Hinchcliffe break, this time to jink and dummy his way through for an outstanding individual score.
Heath then found themselves under pressure from a resurgent Stockport; the visitors’ flanker once again breaking from a maul to cross the line and give the away side a glimmer of hope.
Nevertheless, Heath were determined to increase their points tally and quickly after the restart, turnover ball found its way to replacement flanker Jonny Porritt, who, having only just come on to the pitch, sprinted 70 metres up the touchline, Stephen hare converting to compound Stockport’s misery
Heath now face Cheshire and Lancashire champions, Wirral, in the next round.