HEATH under 17s staged a superb comeback to win the Northern Championship and qualify for the National Cup semi-finals following a narrow 12-11 success over Wirral
Wirral began the game on the front foot and in spite of their good preparation, Heath were made to look as if they had just stepped off the coach, with Wirral’s forward setup allowing a strong base for the swift and evasive backs to settle in to the game. Heath were then immediately dealt an early blow with flanker Brad Davies unable to continue through injury, forcing fullback Luke Matthews into an unfamiliar back row role within the first five minutes. Heath appeared shell-shocked, and were soon 5-0 down; slick hands from the Wirral backs exposed Heath’s drift defence, sending the opposition fullback racing away to score in the corner.
Not only was the intense start from Wirral taking its toll on the Heath forwards, who consistently struggled to secure their own ball at the set piece, but also on the Heath backs, particularly out wide, where crunching tackles from wingers Lewis McKenzie and Will Tolley kept Heath in the game.
Ill discipline from Heath side was punished by the match officials. Nevertheless, Wirral’s fly-half was clinical with the boot, giving his team an 11-0 lead and then continuing to control the game both from the boot and by orchestrating numerous flowing moves through the hands.
Having replaced Matthews on the wing and sparking Heath’s most dangerous attack of the first half, Tolley then found himself nursing an ankle injury and was replaced by Luke Denton.
Heath were arguably lucky to only be 11 points down at the break but it did not take long before they finally settled into the rhythm of the game; the forwards retaining much more ball at the set piece and the backs beginning to make inroads into gaps in the Wirral defence where simple mistakes in the hands and at the ruck area prevented Heath from putting points on the board, accompanied by a couple of missed penalties from centre Sam Pollard.
Heath’s pressure finally paid off with a break from Pollard sending Heath rushing downfield; scrum half Peter Birkett then span the ball out wide to Jack Sheldrake who bundled over in typical fashion, Pollard painfully close with touchline conversion.
Aided by a tiring Wirral defence, Heath were able to pressure for one more score, Sheldrake taking a quick tap from five metres out and forcing his way through four Wirral defenders to squeeze over the line. Heath’s two scores in five minutes had completely reshaped the game, and under intense pressure, a superb wide conversion from Pollard sent them into an 11-12 lead which they were able to protect until the finish.
Heath now have to recover before taking on Academy side, Worcester Warriors, in the National semi-final in three weeks time.
More Junior Sport in Thursday’s Halifax Courier