Tomorrow, when Richmond travel the short distance to the other end of the south circular to play Blackheath at Rectory Field, it will conclude the 151st year of the oldest continually contested fixture in world rugby.
True, Richmond hosted the very first fixture in January 1864, and the repeat of that match took place earlier this season at the Athletic Ground (a stone’s throw from the original meeting on Richmond Green) a contest the Surrey side won 36-27, but the return game in south-east London is just as eagerly anticipated.
Indeed, a pre-match lunch to mark the occasion sold out within a day of being advertised, and with the opening round of Six Nations matches upon us, and rugby high on people’s minds, a good turnout is expected.
The fixture means a lot to its participants too.
‘I was fortunate enough to play in the (150th) anniversary game at Richmond last season,’ said Blackheath centre Markus Burcham.
‘It was a massive occasion and great to be a part of a little bit of history. The game was really tight too (a last-ditch Richmond try leaving the score tied at 31-31) with the crowd really vocal. You could tell by the expressions on their faces how much it meant to both sets of supporters.’
Last season was Markus’ first full campaign with Blackheath, and this term the 24-year old has made the number 13 jersey his own, being ever-present in all 21 league games to date.
His first experience of rugby came as an eight-year old playing at Bournemouth. From there he moved on to Camberley RFC in Surrey before spending two years with the Wasps Academy.
In 2011 he joined Blackheath, but only for half a season.
‘I was in the middle of a sports science degree at St Mary’s university in Twickenham at the time,’ he continued. Playing in National League One is a big commitment, so I decided to take a step back and spent a season with Thurrock RFC in National League Three.’
In the summer of 2013 he returned, making 28 appearances and crossing the try-line five times in that first season back in Club colours, followed by a Twickenham appearance with Kent and a tour of Georgia with England Counties.
But it’s not only the fitness and scoring ability of the 6ft, 95Kg centre, who now works selling orthopaedic equipment to the NHS. Markus’ lines of running and creativity in midfield have helped develop one of the most attacking and exciting back divisions seen at Rectory Field for some time and that, allied to huge tackling and turn-over skills (defensive qualities honed from his formative years as a back-row forward), make him one of Blackheath’s key players.
‘Offers have come from Championship clubs, but I’m enjoying life at Blackheath. I’ve made a lot of friends here and I admire what the club stands for – a proper rugby club that plays to a high standard but is self-sustaining.’
‘I believe this is the best level to play and watch,’ he continued. ‘We may not have quite the physicality of the fully professional game, but the skills are there and it sets the platform for a more open, running game.’
So when you settle down tonight in front of one of the oldest international fixtures in world sport, as England face Wales at the Millennium Stadium, you might want to think about popping along to Rectory Field tomorrow to indulge in another historic rugby occasion.
Markus is one of many who think you’ll find the experience equally rewarding!