The Big Match: Blackheath v Hartpury

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by Nick Sullivan

Have the Students become the Masters?

Blackheath prepare this weekend for the visit of all-conquering Champions elect Hartpury RFC (1st). The observant will note that the ‘College’ moniker has disappeared for the 2016/17 campaign, although it still in general use in the rugby community, on the club’s Facebook account and, indeed, on the NCA’s official website.

Rightly or wrongly, the Gloucestershire side arrive in Southeast London surrounded by what seems to be equal portions of admiration, jealousy and righteous indignation for what they have achieved and how they have achieved it. But they also arrive with some extremely impressive records, to wit (as they say):-

a) Largest points’ haul at 143, eclipsing Esher’s 135 in 2009/10.

b) Most wins at 29 from 29, also pipping Esher who had 28 from 29 (losing to Sedge Park and not needing to play the final game) in 2009/10.

c) Almost the most on-field points scored in a season – currently on 1,412 and only 5 required to overtake guess who? Yes, Esher racked up 1,416 in that same season, although that did include putting 267 past a heavily struggling Manchester side.

d) Most try bonus points at 27, exceeding Ealing’s 25 in 2014/15.

There may even be others…so it could be a very interesting final weekend at Well Hall.

Past Meetings and Recent Results

This is the third season that the two sides have met with – so far – victories falling to the home side. At Rectory Field, Blackheath beat their opponents 29 – 24 in November 2014 and 13 – 12 in November the following year. Hartpury, on the other hand, have won on campus 19 – 12 in March 2015, 15 – 9 in February last year and, more comprehensively, 34 – 0 in the opening game of this campaign.

In fact, Hartpury’s last loss was a year ago, falling 35 – 26 away at Plymouth on 23 April 2016, having also lost at home to eventual Champions Richmond the week before. April Fool’s Day saw a high scoring clash of the students as Hartpury made home advantage count with a 40 (6) – 31 (5) over visiting Loughborough. The following weekend, they convincingly beat an out-of-sorts Moseley side 14 (2) – 32 (5) at Billesley Common. Most recently, last week, our guests welcomed Macclesfield to their Gloucestershire base and, ominously, put down their biggest score of the year with a resounding 92 (14) – 7 (1) victory over the Cheshire side.

Match Day Details

Kick off at Well Hall is at the usual time of 3pm. Overseeing for the final time this season is Calum Howard, ably assisted by Paul Kimber and Matthew Shepherd.  The match will be followed by the now traditional end of season party, with a DJ to keep us entertained into the night

The weather may be perking up ever so slightly. After a generally chilly week, we’re heading for a thermometer-busting 14 degrees on Saturday afternoon. Friday’s showers should pass over leaving some light cloud and sunny intervals accompanied by a fresh 12 mph southerly.

If you cannot make Well Hall 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 after 5.00 pm.

Team News

Blackheath First XV V Hartpury HOME 29 April 2017

15. Mike MVELASE
14. Tom CHAPMAN
13. Markus BURCHAM (Capt)
12. Alex PICKERSGILL
11. Dan HAMILTON
10. Mark COOKE
9. Simon WHATLING
1. Aston CROALL
2. Harry FRY
3. George BAKER
4. Devin MONTGOMERY
5. Tom STRADWICK
6. Chris WALKER
7. Jesse LISTON
8. Tom BALDWIN

16. Chris SHORTER
17. George CAVE
18. Freddie OWEN
19. Jake BEDDING
20. Tom DOWDING

Around the Grounds

Excitement abounds at the bottom of the table, with the battle to avoid the second relegation place going down to the wire. Fourteenth placed Hull Ionians have a 2 point (and one more win) advantage over Blaydon in fifteenth. Both have tricky away ties in which they could scrap a win. Blaydon (15th) travel to Hertfordshire and James Shanahan’s Old Albanian (10th) with a slightly earlier kick off time of 2.30 pm, whilst Ionians (14th) head north to Darlington Mowden Park (9th).

Elsewhere, it is largely end of season fun with only pride to play for as, with the exception of a potential swap between Coventry and Moseley in 4th and 5th place, none of the top 7 sides can improve or worsen their position. Cov (4th), already building a solid squad for next season, will wish to have bragging rights over their near neighbours as they make the short trip up the M69 to Loughborough Students (11th). Lough’s long-time coach and former Club man Dave Morris has recently announced that he is moving to London Scottish next season. Moseley (5th), on the other hand, have the slightly longer trip up the M6 to Fylde (12th). The Lancastrians are another side whose head coach has announced that he is moving on in the closed season. Veteran Fylde servant Paul Arnold is leaving to take the reins at Preston Grasshoppers.

Plymouth Albion (2nd) are another side who have already announced a raft of signings for next year in what sounds like a serious tilt at promotion. They sign off with a visit to Cambridge (13th). An Albion victory would give them sufficient points to have won the league last season, which perhaps says something about Hartpury’s quality. Rosslyn Park (6th) host Ampthill (3rd) in what could be a forward slog and, finally, already relegated Macclesfield (16th) aim to sign off their season in style against much improved Esher (8th).

Heathens

The Heathens have completed their Zoo League fixtures for the season. A disappointing final quarter of the campaign saw them drop to 6th place in the league, taking the gloss of an otherwise impressive season. Richmond – not unexpectedly it must be said – eventually won the league at a canter. They are unassailable in first place with 21 wins from 21, despite having not played three of their matches.

Good luck Blackheath and Come On Youuuu Cluuuuuub!

Graham Cox

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