by Nick Sullivan
The curtain closes on the first half of the season tomorrow with Blackheath sitting at the dizzy height of third going into the final match. But the rarefied atmosphere does present a potential nosebleed in the form of tomorrow’s opponents. A local derby to wrap things up before Christmas sees fourth placed Esher make the trip around the M25 to the Rectory Field.
After a slow start to the season, Esher found a vein of form in October and, bar a few hiccups, have performed solidly since then. Highlights include a victorious and high-scoring 41-34 tussle with league leaders Richmond and a stonking 46-5 home win over Blackheath’s opponents from last weekend, Coventry. On the other hand, they have struggled against opponents from the northeast, unexpectedly losing at home to a resurgent Darlington Mowden Park last weekend, as well as an 8-14 reversal at Blaydon on 21 November.
Long-time servant of the club Mike Schmid holds the reins as Director of Rugby backed up by head coach Ricky Nebbett and former Club favourite Chris Kibble. This year the triumvirate is joined by the experienced former Harlequins wing Tom Williams, with over 220 appearances to his name, who takes up the position of player-coach. At the same time, Tom retains a coaching role with the Quinn’s Academy set up.
A few newcomers join the Molesey Road outfit this season, including:-
Forwards: Kevin Davis, prop (Ealing T, London Welsh & Nuneaton); Callum O’Connell, hooker (Hartpury College); Stan South, lock (dual-registration from Harlequins).
Backs: In addition to Tom Williams on the wing are, Paul Roberts, fly half (Doncaster, Plymouth & Bath) and Calum Waters, scrum half (Worthing, now dual-reg with Quins)
Departures: Tom Bedford (to Plymouth Albion); David Millard (retired).
Past Meetings and Recent Results
Esher returned to National One for the 2012/13 season, after a relatively brief flirtation with the Championship. All the matches since then have gone with the respective home sides, Blackheath winning their home games 24-3 in the pre-Christmas fixture on 22 December of the 2012/13 season, 38-10 in January 2014 and a closer contest 27-23 in February this year.
More recently, since the loss at Blaydon in mid-Novembers, Eees have recorded an impressive 43 – 3 home win against Cinderford at the end of that month, followed by a 5 – 39 away win at Henley on 5 December. Last weekend, somewhat controversially, Esher fell 14 -22 at home to Darlington Mowden Park. Dominating the tight encounters and, apparently, forcing 28 penalties from their opponents, some sloppy passing gifted two intercept tries to the visitors as the hosts couldn’t quite make their pressure count.
Match Day Details
Kick off at the Rectory Field is at 3pm.
Officiating tomorrow are Matthew O’Grady and his assistants Robert Carnell and Chris Fowke.
The weather. Not so much chestnuts roasting on an open fire but more barbequing on the range as Southeast London continues to bask in a heatwave of around 14 degrees. Any early rain will pass over, leaving a cloudy but dry afternoon, with a 15mph southerly wafting its way over Rectory Field.
If you are cannot make the game this weekend, don’t forget the always excellent Graham Cox on BBC Radio Kent (96.7 FM, 104.2 FM, 774 AM, DAB & On-line) who provides live score updates and reports, post-match interviews, plus a full round-up National League results for all Kent clubs around 5.15 pm.
Blackheath First XV V Esher HOME 19 December 2015
15. Geoff GRIFFITHS
14. Jake LLOYD
13. Markus BURCHAM (Capt)
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
17. Bertie HASKINS
18. Chris SEWELL
19. Jake BEDDING
20. Leo FIELDING
Around the Grounds
Several difficult to call games this weekend as the top eight are all in action against each other. Richmond (1st) take a short hop to the other side of the Park for another tough encounter as they face Rosslyn Park (5th). Waiting to take advantage of any slip up, Hartpury College (2nd) welcome Plymouth Albion (6th) to campus and, in a clash of the big packs, Ampthill (7th) entertain Coventry (8th).
And, of course, it doesn’t take much of a leap to realise that this means the bottom eight are also playing each other. At the very foot, Henley (16th) greet Cinderford (15th) at Dry Leas, with both sides eager for the points, and the loser starting to look isolated. Immediately above them, Wharfedale (14th) are hoping to build on last weekend’s win away at Hull as Fylde (10th) come a-calling across the Pennines.
The pre-Chrimbo derby in the northeast sees Blaydon (13th), whose home match last week was a victim of the weather, make the short trip to Darlington Mowden Park (9th) and, finally, Loughborough Students (12th) sign off the year with a visit from Hull Ionians (11th).
So, Merry Christmas, Good luck Blackheath and Come On Youuuu Cluuuuuub!