Vandals damage Eastbourne RFC’s hopes in opener – Haywards Heath see off Shoreham

Ian Padgett gets forward for Eastbourne RFC v Weybridge Vandals | Picture: Lucy Lewis
Ian Padgett gets forward for Eastbourne RFC v Weybridge Vandals | Picture: Lucy Lewis

Eastbourne 17 Weybridge Vandals 33

Counties 1 Surrey/Sussex

Promoted Eastbourne lost their opening game in a new league as Weybridge Vandals proved tough opponents.

The Haywards Heath RFC first XV squad | Picturee courtesy of HHRFC
The Haywards Heath RFC first XV squad | Picturee courtesy of HHRFC

Weybridge Vandals, who finished fourth last season, are looking to push on and get promoted.

Eastbourne are looking to find their feet and become an established team in Counties 1.

Conditions were perfect for positive running rugby and that's what the large crowd was treated to.

Weybridge were the biggest side Eastbourne have faced in many seasons and scored first, with Eastbourne starting slowly.

The hosts continued to find themselves under the pump, but did have scrum and lineout dominance and used this as a good platform to attack.

Man of the match Ryan Shields crossed the line with the first of many powerful runs.

Weybridge responded 10 minutes later to go 12-5 up and scored again shortly afterwards to go 17-5 up.

Eastbourne scored next through Ollie Horley, who was back in the side at full-back, with his well timed and strong run enabling him to score under the post on the stroke of half-time.

The conversion was missed and Eastbourne went into the break 17-10 down.

Eastbourne lost their defensive shape a few times in the second half, particularly when Weybridge transitioned from defence to attack. They punished Eastbourne into conceding a converted try and two penalties early on.

The desire to come away with something was clear for all to see as Eastbourne went on the offensive for large parts of what remained of the half.

But last season's calm attacking composure evaded Eastbourne on multiple occasions – before Ollie Horley crossed for his second of the game with another well-timed run to score under the posts. Owen Jones converted the try.

Eastbourne finished with another golden opportunity to score and leave the game with a bonus point, but it wasn't to be. The game finished 17-33 to Weybridge Vandals, who are a well coached and were a pleasure to host.

Eastbourne were missing four regular first-team players including their captain and goal kicker.

However the side left the field buoyant, knowing they were the fitter side and have a good set-piece, and should be able to compete at this level. It also showed the depth of squad and competition for places.

MoM could have gone to multiple players. They included Josh Buckwell in the second row for a superb all-round performance, Ian Padgett at scrum half for his good cover defence and constant probing attacks or Horley for two well-taken tries and good communication from full-back.

In the end, it went to Ryan Shields for an extremely high work rate in attack and defence and a well-taken try.

Eastbourne go to Hove this week looking for their first league points of the season.

Haywards Heath 35 Shoreham 17

Counties 2 Sussex

Haywards Heath began the new Counties 2 Sussex season by winning 35-17 at home to Shoreham.

With four players making their first team debuts and the squad wearing a new match kit there was a new look for Heath at the beginning of the 2023/24 campaign.

This promises to be an exciting season for the club, with a growing squad of senior players meaning a 2nd XV squad was playing away at Hove Sea Serpents and ongoing updates on the progress of the new clubhouse and the prospect of breaking ground this autumn being well received by Club members.

Heath and Shoreham have been well matched over the last couple of seasons and this game continued in that vein on a hot autumn day. Heath looked the sharper in the early exchanges and that dominance was rewarded when strong work from the forwards saw skipper Wilf Bridges driven over in the corner for the first score of the day. Tom Wharton slotted the conversion from out wide for 7-0.

Whilst Heath continued to look the more dangerous the final pass not going to hand meant that they were unable to capitalise on their possession and Shoreham worked their way into the game. On the half hour an infringement by Heath was kicked to the corner from where the visitors set up a maul allowing their hooker to take advantage and score for 7-5.

An opposition try stung Heath into action and a quickly taken lineout from a kick through whilst playing with penalty advantage appeared to see Heath with an opportunist score only after some debate for it to be disallowed. From the retaken penalty Heath kicked to the corner, won the lineout and from two forward phases found open side Charlie Bennett to crash through tacklers to score. Wharton converted for 14-5 and half time.

Soon after the restart a long clearance from Shoreham was fielded deep in his own half by Heath scrum half Cam Reed who beat the first couple of defenders before chasing his own kick through to beat the winger and touch down for another converted try and 21-5.

Another break from his own half from Reed saw territory gained before a knock on close to the Shoreham 10 metre line. The Heath pack put an almighty squeeze on and drove the visitors off the ball from where they broke right, put the ball through the hands for full back Dougie Kern to sprint in for the bonus point try. Again Wharton slotted the extras for 28-5.

Shoreham dug deep and powered back through their forwards. A lack of concentration and some missed tackles from Heath saw the visitors break through the middle to score for 28-12.

Back Heath came forcing a penalty which was kicked to the bottom right corner. The lineout was taken and maul set allowing a drive up and over the line only for the ball to be dropped in goal. From the resultant 22 drop out Heath reclaimed the ball spun it wide left where Bennett outpaced the cover for his second try of the afternoon to cap a Player of the Match performance. With his kicking boots on fire, Wharton converted for 35-12.

There was still time for Shoreham to score a consolation third try but as hard as they pushed the Heath defence kept them out and prevented the visitors getting the bonus point for a final score of 35-17.

Down in Hove the Heath 2nd team ran out 89-12 winners over the Sea Serpents in a friendly that saw Heath mixing last year’s colts with vets and other senior squad members. A game played in good spirit saw the sides swapping players to make it more competitive allowing a good run out for the beginning of the season for the large squad at Heath. New players of all ages and abilities are welcome at Heath at any time so if you fancy dusting of your boots this season go along to Whitemans Green or contact to meet the coaches and the squad and join a regular training session.

This week sees Heath 1XV away to Worthing III.

HHRFC 1st team squad : Euan Greaves-Smith; Jack Herbert; Harry Edwards; Dan Shotton; Ellis Dubois; Otto Serjeant; Charlie Bennett; Wilf Bridges(capt); Cameron Reed; Tom Wharton; Takhy Ndiaye-Marrero; Christian Streeter; Will Galbraith-Gibbons; Samuela Bulitkavale-Lancaster; Dougie Kern; Elliott Higgin; Will Purdy; Chris Neill.