EEEs eased open by their own indiscipline
Two yellow cards in as many minutes proved Esher’s undoing as Blackheath claimed victory in this tight, hard-fought contest between two of National League One’s main protagonists.
When Blackheath had found themselves in a similar position a week earlier, they crucially conceded only a single score but, with Esher depleted, the Club crossed twice, overturning an early try from a catch and drive from EEEs’ second-row Ian Kench and providing themselves with a cushion they maintained for the remainder of the match, despite the Surrey side’s best efforts.
‘It was a good, dogged performance and a hard ground-out win,’ said Club director of rugby Colin Ridgway.
‘We expected Esher to use their scrum as their main attacking weapon and we bottled them up well. We messed up a few of our own opportunities but the boys stuck to their task as they’ve done all season.’
‘The back-row were terrific with Anders Nilsson carrying well, Tom Stradwick immense at blind-side and Dave Allen hard-working as ever,’ he continued, ‘and Markus Burcham led from the front with some great tackles. But the way Freddie Gabbitass marshalled the back-line and kept knocking over the points to keep us ahead was the outstanding performance of the afternoon.’
Indeed it was the Club fly-half’s kicking that ultimately proved the difference. With Esher repeatedly infringing as Blackheath drove from three successive line-out throws at the end of the first quarter, both Kench, for interference in the air, and Neil Sweeney, the hooker illegally stopping the maul, headed for the sin-bin.
Scott Wright was the first beneficiary as the Club hooker crossed from a neat set-piece move, followed a few minutes later by Geoff Griffiths coming up into the three-quarter line to send Jake Lloyd over, Gabbitass adding both conversions from opposite touch-lines for 14-5 lead at the break.
Paul Roberts responded with three points for Esher after the re-start, only for Gabbitass to add two more strikes for the hosts, but Esher moved ball swiftly after Blackheath were stripped of possession in their twenty-two to gift an unconverted try to EEEs’ open-side Charles Gossington, reducing the deficit to just seven points.
A long pass on half-way found Lloyd on 52 minutes, the wing brushing off two tackles on his 40-metre break for his second score, and the best try of the match, but Esher exploited another error, this time a lost line-out throw, to retain possession through the phases and work space for Tom Williams to score, levelling the try count at three apiece and still leaving the visitors within striking range on the hour at 25-18.
Burcham’s 66th minute turn-over relieved further danger, and Jack Walsh’s quickly taken free-kick from a scrum infringement led to Gabbitass’ third penalty as Esher came over the top, extending the advantage beyond a converted score, but Aston Croall’s yellow card, for what seemed to most a legitimate tackle, added some late drama.
With Blackheath back under pressure at the set-scrum on their own goal-line, a try looked a likely outcome, but Esher opted for the kick at goal and the solace of a losing bonus point.
‘I thought our first yellow justifiable but the second harsh and it cost us 14-points,’ said Ridgway’s counterpart Mike Schmid. ‘And I don’t think we got due reward for our dominance up front.’
‘However, Blackheath took their chances while we missed a couple and that’s something we need to work on in the second half of the season.’
The win moves Blackheath up to second place as National League One takes a break for the festive period. The Club are back in action on 2nd January when they travel to Cinderford.
Tries: Wright, Lloyd 2,
Conv: Gabbitass 2
Pens: Gabbitass 3
Tries: Kench, Gossington, Williams
Pens: Roberts 2
15 Geoff Griffiths
14 Jake Lloyd
13 Markus Burcham
12 Simon Whatling
11 Dan Hamilton
10 Freddie Gabbitass
9 Jack Walsh
1 Aston Croall
2 Scott Wright
3 Kieron Scutt
4 Gregor Gillanders
5 Devin Montgomery
6 Tom Stradwick
7 Dave Allen
8 Anders Nilsson
16 Ted Lang – not used
17 Bertie Haskins (Scutt)
18 Chris Sewell (Nilsson)
19 Jake Bedding – not used
20 Leo Fielding – not used