23rd Nov: Beckenham 24 Blackheath Bandits 25

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Match report by Nick Probert

Life rarely gives you an immediate opportunity to redeem your mistakes, but Rugby has a different cycle and no one is more grateful for that than Bandits captain and fly half Matt Clarke.

With a very tight game reaching its final moments Matt had pulled a game tying conversion well wide from in front of the posts, but the Bandits have played flat out for the full 80 every game this season and were determined to give Matt his redemption opportunity.

While a lot of Bandit’s matches are full of free flowing rugby, this one was a tighter affair with a game plan based upon achieving forward dominance. The first few minutes went exactly as planned, with good discipline and ball retention from a strong pack and good work from debutant 9 Matt Willis to keep his forwards organized.  However loose kicking to a strong running Beckenham back three gave them an early shot at goal and then eventually allowed them to move the ball through several pairs of hands for a very well worked, then converted, try (7-0).

The game got looser for the next 10 minutes but the defense by both backlines was well organized and eventually Blackheath were able to retain control and attacked the line through a series of 5 meter line outs.  Strong scrummaging and forward dominance led to a penalty and Blackheath taking the points.  More of the same followed allowing Blackheath to benefit from a long advantage played by the excellent referee when Matt Clarke showed the forwards how to run from depth with pace and crashed over for a try (which he converted to take the lead at 7-10).

Unfortunately discipline then deserted the Bandits and a high tackle from the restart immediately gave Becks a penalty to tie the game at 10-10.  To compound the frustration for Coach Chappers, the Bandits then conceded immediately, with Becks taking the restart and running it straight back, with the winger chipping ahead and regathering for a nicely taken try.  This was converted and half time was called with Beckenham leading 17-10.

The second half started as well for Blackheath as the first with a strong forward performance and a dominant scrum causing Beckenham real difficulty. However a well organized Becks defence, very quick off the line made it difficult for the backs to get going and a dropped ball in the Bandits backline let the Beckenham centre pick up and run half the length of the field for a converted try to take a 24-10 lead.

One of the really encouraging things for the Bandits as they have progressed over the last few years is that they have become more disciplined, less inclined to panic and more capable of sticking to a game plan.  And from this point on this game may have been the perfect example of this growth.  14 points down and with no more than 10 minutes left the Bandits began a series of highly physical, highly disciplined assaults on the Beckenham line.  A huge scrum pushed Beckenham back over the line and Matt Willis picked up loose ball and scored his first Club try.  Converted to take the scores to 24-17.

As we headed into injury time the Club kept attacking, keen at least to convert a try for the draw.  Nick Dinning ( having come on at 9) sniped around the side of a ruck, but came up just short, but Andy Lock picked up and crashed over, leaving an easy looking conversion for Matt Clarke.  If you were to ask him, he would tell you that it was charged down, but in reality  the Beckenham player who got his hand to it did well to reach a ball that would have otherwise missed a third set of posts.  Was this the chance to save the game gone?

Surely there was very little time left from from the restart, but the Bandits were patient and retained the ball and kept driving it up, winning a penalty for pulling down the mall.  Kicking to the corner and backing what had been a fragile line out, Blackheath thought this was their last chance. Hearts sank when a knock on at the line gave Becks the scrum, but a huge shove led to the ref giving Club the penalty and moments later Matt Clarke was walking off a very relieved man.

Tim Brindle

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