Driffield travelled over to Halifax again for this crunch game again third-placed Heath, hoping that they could repeat their outstanding performance against Old Brodleians the week before, and keep their promotion hopes on track.
Driffield arrived at North Dean looking to complete the double over Heath – they beat them by 22-10 at Kelleythorpe back in November. That occasion was the last time Heath had tasted defeat, although they have had some narrow victories.
With a slight breeze down the pitch, and the ground in soft but good condition following recent floods. A large crowd had gathered for the encounter and, from the first whistle, it was obvious it was going to be a tense battle.
Heath kicked off deep, putting pressure on the visitors’ defence from the off. Early exchanges saw both sides making mistakes. Driffield were winning lineouts, including Heath’s, but were under pressure at the scrums and made a front row replacement after 15 minutes to address the problem.
Much of the play happened between the two 22-metre lines, until a Heath player was shown yellow for an infringement. Watts took the resulting penalty but, unusually, missed the chance to take the lead.
Driffield began to ramp up the pressure but a super clearance from Heath relieved the danger. Driffield came back strongly and, from another penalty, Watts missed the target much to the relief of the home crowd.
This seemed to inspire the home side and they embarked on a storming run before being hauled down by a struggling defence. Heath were awarded a penalty and opted for a quick tap, and sent the ball down the threes, before the centre was bundled into touch and Driffield cleared their lines.
With the sin-bin over, Heath returned to the attack and surged into Driffield’s defence on 25 minutes. Driffield re-grouped and began to expose the home defence. A pick-and-go less than ten metres out on 28 minutes nearly crossed the whitewash, but Heath’s defence prevented it.
However, the Driffield attackers had their tails up and it came as no surprise to see them breach the lines when Rix went over for an unconverted try and a lead of 5-0 with 30 minutes played.
With half-time approaching Driffield were awarded yet another penalty, but yet another miss meant Heath were let off and were fortunate to be only five points in arrears as the referee blew.
The second half began with Driffield on the attack, but were met with solid defence. Rix was shown a yellow card just seven minutes into the half following an illegal tackle and it was Heath’s chance to take advantage. However, Driffield had a chance to increase their lead with a penalty attempt. Unfortunately, once again missed by Watts.
Heath booted the ball deep into Driffield’s 22 and found touch close to the Driffield try-line. Winning the lineout, Heath drove forwards and looked to have scored a try but the referee disallowed it and blew to stop the game following a nasty blood injury to Robinson.
From the restart, a five-metre scrum to Heath, they continued to press and, from a pick-and-go, managed to squeeze in at the corner but too far out for a conversion, so the score stood at five each with 55 minutes played.
Following the re-start, Driffield were awarded a penalty and this time Watts was on target for Driffield to restore their lead to 8-5.
The game was a tight battle played in an intense atmosphere as both sides looked for openings. Heath linked well to push for a score but Driffield were a solid unit in defence and Heath found them difficult to break down.
With Heath applying pressure and continuing to look dangerous, Johnson intercepted a pass and set off from the half way line on a charge to the line. Fortunately for Heath, the winger chased hard to make a crucial tackle just 10 metres out, when Johnson looked certain to score.
With ten minutes remaining, fresh legs from Heath had an immediate effect and they pressurised Driffield’s line. Heath looked to have scored a try but the referee judged the ball to have been held up, much to the disappointment of the home crowd and relief of Driffield supporters.
Heath were awarded a penalty following a high tackle, and the conversion went over to bring the scores level at eight with just five minutes remaining. Heath then went on a superb jinking run and Driffield looked to be on the ropes, but they failed to cross the line.
Then came the sucker punch! Driffield managed to keep possession of the ball and spun the ball out to Dinsdale. He breached the home defence, shrugging off two tackles, for the all-important try with less than three minutes on the clock, but no conversion.
Shortly after the restart, Johnson took the ball at the tail of a lineout and took it forward. From the resulting maul the ball was worked to the blind-side, finding Dinsdale who went in for his second. The missed conversion attempt ended the game.
This was a superb advert for the game with both teams going at each other for the whole of the match. There were mistakes at the breakdown by both teams but, given the intensity of the game, this was not surprising.
Heath will be disappointed that they once again allowed Driffield to score tries in the final minutes, and that they did not even get a losing bonus point. The result sees them slip to fourth place – they must re-group and prepare for next week’s home game against local rivals Cleckheaton who are third.
Driffield will be pleased with their ability to battle for eighty minutes, and have every right to be delighted to win this key game to retain their top spot.