Charlton Park put the icing on their 125th birthday cake with this ultimately convincing win over Haywards Heath. After a scrappy and evenly matched first half, four tries in the second period meant the game finished on a crescendo to match the occasion.
170 past-players, members and friends had sat down for a long pre-match lunch and to be fair Charlton didn’t really do enough in the first 40 minutes to distract them from their reminiscences. Heath showed why they had enjoyed a successful season back in London 2 and their runners provided a danger whenever they had the ball. Park had had to swap their pack around to make up for four missing players, so Terry Read started in the second row with a return for Steve Laverie in place of the absent Ed Mason. After half an hour Read returned to tight head, Park gained dominance in the scrum and the game.
Their was a interesting battle between two experienced and dangerous scrum-halves which George Davies initially won for the visitors, chasing his own kick through in the second minute. The teams then shared penalties, but Park were coming off second best. It took 20 minutes for them to spring into life, Mike Casizzi reacting quickly to tap a penalty and score, but Heath reclaimed the lead with another unconverted try before joint man-of-the-match Mark English’s quick feet took him through under the posts. A further try put the visitors 17-15 in front at the end of an error-strewn half.
Another of the selection forward changes necessitated the debut of Jeremy Montes in the back row and his ball carrying constantly put Park on the front foot. They restored their lead with a pulverising scrum which led to Montes nonchalantly dotting the ball down. Connor McDonald’s conversion made the lead four points, but two yellow cards in quick succession meant Charlton were playing with 13 men for nearly ten minutes. They defended heroically for most of that time but eventually succumbed to go 25-22 behind.
In the last ten minutes, once the players had returned from the naughty step, there were three more exhilarating tries. Alan Knuckey raced in from forty yards, then a break from Reion Raybe (sub) and some lovely hands sent Ross Sidebottom scampering away, and finally following a line-out Terry Read (the other m-o-t-m) drove on and Knuckey nipped in for his second.