Calamity on college campus as careless Club kick it away!
A first defeat in 2015, and an end to an unbeaten run which had stretched to nine matches.
In a tight game that could have gone either way, Blackheath will be disappointed that their territorial edge had not been enough to accrue more than the two tries they recorded. However, going in to the latter stages on level terms, and where a solitary mistake might prove costly, it was Hartpury College (and in particular full-back Matt Protheroe) who found the extra gear, while the visitors made the crucial errors that ultimately determined the outcome.
They deserved it too. Since the beginning of December, Hartpury, in their first season in National League One, have been on an outstanding run which has seen them record ten victories from their last eleven outings, their only reversal coming at the hands of league-leaders Ealing Trailfinders.
On this bright spring afternoon, amid the well-appointed surrounds of this delightful ground set in the Gloucestershire countryside, the hosts started in confident fashion, fly-half Mitch Burton spurning an early penalty for field position. Hartpury also enjoyed a massive advantage at the set-scrum, while Blackheath had the weapon of a dominant line-out which disrupted the hosts early attack, and provided the platform to set up camp in opposition territory for a vast majority of the opening period.
In the seventh minute Geoff Griffiths overran an awkward pass (some of Blackheath’s passing proved ragged throughout) which might have let the left-wing in out wide, and two drop-goal attempts from Ryan Squires and Tom Carlisle fell short. However, on 28 minutes, after Hartpury were penalised for in at the side, the Club pack motored forward from 15 metres out for Dave Allen to score and give the lead their pressure had merited.
But not for long. Another attacking line-out for Hartpury was brilliantly plucked out of the sky by Freddie Owen, but on the stroke of half-time the Gloucestershiremen secured their own ball, and as scrum-half Ben Vellacott’s crossfield kick bounced wickedly in-goal, outside-centre Steve Leonard pounced to bring the score level at 5-5 at the break.
Within six minutes of the re-start the hosts were ahead. Turnover ball in midfield saw Protheroe quickly up into the line to send Steff Reynolds through tackles, the right-wing finding room to run under the uprights for the easy conversion, but again the lead was short-lived.
Line-out ball had Allen driving in-field and Harry Sheppard’s grubber sat up beautifully for Griffiths to almost stroll across the goal-line; Squires also left with an easy kick to draw level.
A foot in touch denied Squires a try soon after, as Aston Croall’s delightful pass put the full-back down a narrow channel on the left flank, and the same player made the crucial tackle as Protheroe and Reynolds again combined at the other end of the field.
The draw began to look the inevitable, and reasonable, outcome, but as time drew short Blackheath’s woeful out of hand kicking was to prove decisive.
As the Club pack marched their way out of the twenty-two, ball out on the full marched them straight back again, keeping the pressure on. And with six minutes remaining, and as another kick was put through, the ball again fell favourably for Hartpury in their own territory, and Protheroe, who’d served plenty of notice of his pace, evaded two tacklers as he raced half the length of the field for the winning score.
There was still time for Blackheath to respond, but when they needed ball in hand they kicked, and never got close.
Next Saturday, Blackheath return to Rectory Field for the first visit of Darlington Mowden Park. Kick-off is 3.00 pm.
Tries: Leonard, Reynolds, Protheroe
Conv: Burton, Thompson
Tries: Allen, Griffiths
We now have a Blackheath Channel on Grandstand where you can to watch the highlights of this match – click here to find out more.