Charlton Park played in a few exciting nail-biters last season and this was another; neither side deserved really to lose but Haywards Heath showed great defence and some ambitious counter-attack which was enough to gain the points. As for Park, they will be fretting over the spell of play about ten minutes from the end when, for them, the match turned for the worse.

It started with a lucky touch on a Heath player which put Ben Pritchard onside. From his pass Tommy Nightingale was hauled down, the ball bobbled loose, and the Park players stopped, convinced they had advantage – but no whistle. Haywards Heath were waiting for no-one; they were gone. Seventy yards away Reion Raybe did really well to get back and hold the ball up on the line but he was outnumbered by home attackers and to the great joy of the home crowd the ball popped out and the winning try was scored and converted.

Even after that Charlton had chances as they camped in the 22 and Heath did all they knew to counteract their severe scrum disadvantage. A penalty was missed, a ball was dropped, but the chances were gone.

Earlier Park had done well to come back from an early 10-0 deficit against a pumped-up home team to lead 17-14 at half-time and then 24-20. Haywards Heath’s first try came in the right corner when their winger pounced on a clever kick dabbed through. Number 11 produced a conversion from touch to up the hype and then kicked a good penalty. Park’s forwards were getting on top, however, and Raybe was running dangerously from the back. He nearly scored when tackled on the line and from the resultant pressure Park were awarded the first of their two penalty tries as the home scrum folded. Connor McDonald then kicked a good penalty and Jack Hudson marked his debut by weaving through under the posts.

Heath regained the lead just after half-time with another explosive start but Park’s scrum was rolling and the second penalty try restored the lead – for a time.

Amidst the depression at losing such a game there were many positives, not least amongst the debutants, back row Nick Ashton getting the man-of-the-match. But it is an old adage, ‘play to the whistle’ and Charlton Park forgot it. Congratulations to Haywards Heath on the win, have a good season, and we’ll see you again at Broad Walk in April.

Next Saturday Park are at home to our friends from Old Colfeians, fresh from a big win. Should be good.