Blackheath win bragging rights in thrilling local derby
Elthamian ill-discipline gives Blackheath vital victory in failing light to keep their promotion hopes alive.
Before kick-off at College Meadows OE’s Director of Rugby Gavin Lach was heard to say that “the season will not be over whoever wins or loses today.” As adroit as these words may turn out to be a win would keep Club in touching distance of their hosts and leave the field wide open as we head into the Christmas break.
Perhaps inevitably the game began with fraught exchanges and dogged defence as both sides tried to find a chink in their opposition’s armour, knowing that any lapse could prove costly in what was sure to be a tense and enthralling afternoon. However, despite an incredible level of physicality neither side were able to establish dominance or find a way through.
It was to be the home-side who drew first blood when on 20 minutes Tom White struck a penalty to give Elthamians a slender lead which they would maintain until the half.
The real drama of a compelling first-half came through two flashes of indiscipline. James Catt, having been brought on as a blood replacement for Anders Nilsson, immediately earned himself a yellow card for a clumsy high tackle on OEs wing Dom Lespierre.
The real turning point of this encounter came on 33 minutes when Cameron Holenstein was shown a red card for a dangerous tackle on Blackheath Hooker Mike Perks. The tackle was a sign of impetuous foolishness rather than actual malice but left referee Alexander Thomas no choice, and put the already struggling Elthamian pack under even more pressure.
With an extra man for more than half the game it was advantage Blakheath and on 45 minutes Club were able to transform this into their first score. A solid scrum from the now dominant Blackheath pack created a good platform which led to slick hands and great break from Craig Dowsett who was able to release centre Henry Staff to score a nicely-worked try.
Just six minutes later Blackheath were able to build on their lead when a powerful drive at the scrum put the Elthamian half-backs under pressure near their goal line. With the Elthamian scrum fragmenting man-of -the-match Tom Stradwick was able to break from the backrow and put serious pressure on home flyhalf Tom White who knocked on behind his own line. Club captain Markus Burcham was able to pounce on the loose ball for an unexpected but important score. Joe Tarrant added the extras and it appeared that everything might be going Blackheath’s way.
However, in a league this tight and against an opposition of Old Elthamians’ calibre that was always bound to be unlikely. Having recovered from the shock of conceding two tries in just six minutes OEs summoned the strength to find a way back into the game.
White scored his second penalty midway through the second half bringing the score to 6-12 and leaving a tantalising gap between the two teams.
With merely seven minutes remaining in the dying light of College Meadow OEs made their final and most successful attack on the Blackheath line. Breaking from their own 22m White spotted a gap behind the Club defence. His chip was gathered by winger Golledge who made a break deep into Blackheath territory before being brought down. Quick ball from the resultant ruck led to a long pass out wide where George Perkins dotted down in the corner. Sadly, for the home team White was unable to add the conversion from out wide and Blackheath would retain a solitary one-point lead, setting up the most nerve-wracking of finales.
Old Elthamians secured the ball from the restart and continued to probe the Blackheath defence but having been breached just once all afternoon the men in red and black looked unlikely to succumb again.
Players on both sides deserved the rich applause they received from the huge crowd of 1,770 – the highest for any league match this season – that came to see this excellent advertisement National League One rugby.
A huge thank you to everyone who made the trip to the game have a great Xmas and New Year break. We resume on Saturday, 5th January when we are at home to Plymouth Albion KO 3pm
As most of you will now know Graham Cox is very ill in hospital and Helen our club photographer was keeping him and Kris informed of the score. We wish him a speedy recovery.
A huge welcome to Brendon Palmer who played loose head for every minute of his debut for Blackheath. Joining this week from Rotherham he ably filled the boots of our injured player coach Tom Williams. Brendon joined Rotherham at the beginning of the current season.
Merry Xmas and a Happy New Year