by Nick Sullivan
Alex Cuthbert, Dan Tuohy, Andries Pretorius, Dan Norton, Charlotte Dujardin, Henry Trinder…fortunately all these, and more, will not be turning out for Blackheath’s opponents this weekend.
The first of a tough three week stretch for the men in red and black as they hit the trail west on Saturday to the Forest of Dean – or at least its suburbs – and a visit to third placed Hartpury College. With a list of notable alumni as long as your arm, including that little lot above (this week’s test is to spot which of those Hartporians is actually Britain’s most successful ever dressage rider), the visitors will need to be at their best. Boasting state of the art premises and equipment, including a Human Performance Laboratory*, an artificial pitch and an exchange programme with Gloucester Rugby, Hartpury’s facilities would be on many coaches’ Christmas lists.
Hartpury has a reputation of consistently turning out high quality players who progress to professional careers at home and around the world. And much of these folks’ development comes from playing for the College’s National League RFC side. The team has rocketed its way up the league structure since joining Gloucester Three North in 2004. Their first match was an inauspicious loss, an event that did not occur again until 5 years later in 2009. Despite a few losses since 09, this season they have established themselves as one of the top sides in National One and clearly a promotion candidate.
*In a unanimous vote, the travelling support has agreed not to damage the College’s equipment by having a go at whatever one of these does.
This is the College’s second season at National One and the three previous meetings have been close fought affairs, all going the way of the home sides. Last season, Blackheath won 29 – 24 at home in November but then fell to a 19 – 12 away defeat in March. This time out, the Southeast London outfit sneaked an incredibly close 13 – 12 victory.
More recently, Club’s opponents had been going purringly well until a hiccup away in the Northeast last weekend.
First up was a trip to local rivals Cinderford on 30 January. Despite the relative league positions, as a derby game this was a potential banana skin. Hartpury have won the previous three encounters at Level Three, but never by much and have never taken a 4-try bonus point. This match was to be different however as, other than an off-patch in the second half, Hartpury commanded from first to last. Cinderford defended doggedly but were unable to prevent some well-worked tries and saw too little of the ball to conjure much threat of their own. The visitors displayed some good running and passing skills, as well as patiently playing through the phases, to put in a solid performance and come away with a 7 – 38, bonus point victory.
A home tie to Henley Hawks was next up on 6 February on a rain-sodden artificial surface. Aggressive Hawk’s pressure in the first half forced penalties and prevented the hosts from really getting into their stride, although they still managed two stretches across the line for a 15 – 9 lead at the break. The half time talk clearly made a difference, as a blistering second period heaped pressure on all areas of the Hawks’ game, Hartpury notching up a further 5 tries – with a late consolation for the visitors – and with it a 48 – 16 win.
Our hosts lost their way in Darlington last weekend though. A solid opening and closing period were undermined by a messy and ill-disciplined middle. An early two try lead was overturned by DMP – the work of their dynamic loose forwards particularly evident – and, in fact, the home side went in with a 7 point lead at the break. The second period continued in a similar vein- Hartpury working hard to move the ball upfield, only to gift possession, territory or both to their opponents. The latter are going through a purple patch of their own at the moment and don’t need much encouragement to take advantage of sloppy play. Early in the half, a further two quick tries looked to have put the hosts out of sight before Hartpury clawed back one score – and a glimmer of hope – on 60 minutes. All that was undone when DMP ran an aimless kick back over the College’ try line for their fifth try. The visitors’ composure returned towards the end and a final flourish saw two late tries, but it was already too late for anything but the 4 try bonus point. DMP deservedly taking the points with a 36 – 27 win.
Match Day Details
Kick off at the College’s ground is at 2.30pm
This week, the man in the middle is Philip Davies assisted by Ian Pengelly and Stuart Dillon.
And the weather. Weeeeell, the good news is that it should be much milder tomorrow than it has been of late. Cloudy, but largely dry with, perhaps, the odd patch of rain. The wind will pick up though. Expect temperatures around 12 degrees and a sou’westerly blowing at around 20mph.
If you are not travelling to Gloucestershire this weekend, don’t forget BBC Radio Kent (96.7 FM, 104.2 FM, 774 AM, DAB & On-line) will provide 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 Hartpury College AWAY 20 February 2016
15. Freddie GABBITASS
14. Geoff GRIFFITHS
13. Markus BURCHAM (Capt)
12. Leo FIELDING
11. Jake LLOYD
10. Simon WHATLING
9. Jack WALSH
1. Aston CROALL
2. Scott WRIGHT
3. Kieron SCUTT
4. Devin MONTGOMERY
5. Shaun ENGLISH
6. Freddie OWEN
7. Dave ALLEN
8. Tom BALDWIN
16. George EDGSON
17. Bertie HASKINS
18. Tom ELLIS
19. Sam EYDMANN
20. Hamish GRAHAM
Around the Grounds
Elsewhere, Hull Ionians (11th) are looking for the points to avoid being dragged slowly into the relegation dogfight as they host Cinderford (16th) in the East Riding. In a different part off Yorkshire, Wharfedale (13th) have a home tie v Rosslyn Park (8th). On the other side of the Pennines, Fylde (9th) clash with Blaydon (14th) at the Woodlands.
Last week’s opponents Loughborough Students (12th) welcome Ampthill (6th) to campus, and two big packs have a tete-a-tete as Coventry (10th) have home advantage over Esher (5th). Punters on the South coast will be hoping that in-form Plymouth’s (4th) ground has recovered from the weathering evident in their last home game a fortnight ago (look for pictures of their home match v Blaydon) as Henley (15th) come a-calling. Finally, in what is probably match of the day outside of Gloucestershire, leaders Richmond (1st) take on the impressively in-form Darlington Mowden Park (7th).
Good luck Blackheath and Come On Youuuu Cluuuuuub!