Heath retained their vice-like grip on the Dave Littlefair Trophy and advertised their Yorkshire One promotion credentials with a 29-15 win over Old Brodleians at North Dean yesterday.
After an unsatisfactory first half, blighted by collapsed scrums and penalty stoppages, the action reached a peak in front of an enthralled crowd of around 400 at around the hour mark.
The visitors, only 19-15 adrift, threw everything they had at a resilient, well-organised home defence in a full-blooded window of play which encapsulated all that is good about derby rugby.
Something had to give and eventually Brods prop Callum Thompson conceded a scrum penalty which Ezra Hinchliffe thumped over from 40 metres to extend the gap between the sides to seven points.
The increasingly-frustrated Thompson, sin-binned earlier, was then dismissed after throwing a punch and Heath’s pack took advantage, rumbling forward to clinch victory with their side’s second penalty try of the match in the closing stages.
The visitors were left with a feeling of injustice, believing that Thompson had got a raw deal from the referee in an epic duel with Chris Moore, while Heath were delighted to extend a three-month winning run into 2019 in their pursuit of leaders and next weekend’s hosts Moortown.
Conditions will rarely be as good at West Vale in January as they were yesterday and two teams close to full strength faced off for a couple of minutes, keen to get on with in, before the referee appeared to ironic cheers.
He had his hands full in an attritional contest which started in fine fashion for the visitors, who received the kick off and scored within two minutes, centre Michael Briggs bumping off a tackler and racing 40 metres to the line for an unconverted try.
Brods maintained their bright start and mauled their way over the try line but Heath were awarded one of a string of penalties as their renowned pack brought pressure to bear. Several awards came at the scrum, where the advancing side usually gets the benefit of any doubt in the event of a collapse. Thompson was ruled the chief villain and when Heath were repeatedly frustrated close to the Brods line, the home side were awarded a penalty try after 22 minutes and the loose head prop yellow carded.
Breakdown penalties added to Brods’ woes and Heath had just the man to make them pay in Hinchliffe, who had extended the home lead to 16-5 by the 35-minute mark with two straight shots from just outside the 22 and then a more angled effort.
Brods regained some composure and possession towards the end of the half and settled for a Phil Town penalty and an eight-point deficit when Heath were offside close to their posts.
A Dan Cole kick was a shade too strong for flank speedster Callum Harriett-Brown on the resumption but Heath did add another three points, from Hinchliffe’s boot, only for flanker Jason Merrie to drop the restart and Brods No 8 Rob Jennings to power through untouched from the subsequent scrum.
Town added the 51st minute conversion and it 19-15 it was game on. Hinchliffe got across superbly to tackle winger Harris Morris into touch as Brods enjoyed more possession and sensed an upset might be on the cards.
However, Heath matched fire with fire, Hinchliffe landed his fifth and best penalty of the afternoon and Thompson finally snapped after being driven into the air by Moore at a scrum to end visiting hopes.
Home coach Dave Harrison said: “The key thing, that really underpinned our performance, was our defensive integrity across the park. Their frustration led to indiscipline and they imploded.”
His opposite number Ollie Akroyd had a different take on affairs. He blamed poor decision-making as the main problem for his side, thought his side had played the game’s best rugby and thought that a different referee might have taken a very different view about the ‘dark arts’ in the scrum.
HEATH beat Brods 26-21 in the second teams’ Merit Championship fixture, played before the first team fixture at North Dean. They had a big lead at half time but were forced to hang on after being reduced to 13 men at one stage in the second half due to yellow cards.