Sussex was at its most welcoming on Saturday; the sun, blue sky and massed autumnal colours, a lovely lunch and welcome from the hosts, and then a thumping win for the visitors. Heathfield and Waldron has not been one of Charlton Park’s happiest hunting grounds in recent years. The Greenies raise their game, perhaps we don’t, and this year both teams were fielding their strongest available teams. There was a large crowd, including a healthy CP element and at half-time the match had lived up to expectations, five tries and little in it, but the conditions favoured the team defending the clubhouse end more strongly than it seemed and with the wind and the sun at their backs Park’s second-half pressure eventually told against a young side who kept going to the end.
Looking back, it is clear that Charlton’s narrow 20-15 lead at half-time was worth more than five points. The visitors managed to burgle three tries from their forays into the Heathfield half despite having to withstand some sustained pressure from their young opponents. In fact it is difficult to see how Park managed to get as much possession as they did considering their line-out malfunctioned all game and the scrum was contested strongly. In general they kept greater control of what ball they had than the home side.
After some minutes of poor kicking and limp handling, Alan Knuckey chose to tap a penalty, chipping the defenders and kicking on. Mark English was on hand to finish the move in the corner. Heathfield levelled the score when the scrum half darted round a maul, then a penalty for Park and a towering drop goal made it eight-all. Heathfield had their best moment when the centre took a flat line to score by the posts, but immediately from the restart Charlton attacked the blindside and Rob Saunderson scored in the same left-hand corner. Back came Heathfield, almost scoring but losing the ball on the line, from where Reion Raybe collected the popped-up pass and went the full distance untouched to the far posts.
The second half remained closely fought for a further twenty minutes. Knuckey’s penalty extended the lead but some slick passing created space for the Heathfield right winger to score in the right corner. Park, however, were beginning to create more space as their powerful runners attacked the midfield, with man-of-the-match Sam Baker becoming more and more prominent. A penalty try after a yellow card extended the lead back to ten points (30-20) and then the floodgates opened.
Under pressure, a poor kick only ended up with Mark Harlow-Singh in acres of space on halfway, and a pass to Jeremy Montes and then to Raybe gave him a run-in for his second. The home side could not get out of their 22 as Park ran everything back and there were straightforward overlap tries created by ball retention and recycling for Ben Chappell, returning after a six-week concussion absence, a second for Mark English and then Raybe’s hat-trick.
Coach Amzaleg expressed satisfaction at probably the best all-round display of the season, although the team cannot be happy with their line-out or some sloppy ball-handling. Heathfield were their usual generous and charming selves and we wish them all the best – it is hard to see them not winning many more.