The Club social side suffered a second narrow defeat in succession on Saturday, losing 32-29 at Gravesend with the last kick of the match. The Bandits rallied in the second half once again, but need to find a way of starting more sharply as slow opening periods continue to hold them back. On this occasion, the early lethargy was a little more understandable; traffic on the A2 meant players were still arriving a matter of seconds before kickoff and, with 19 players unavailable for myriad reasons, the Club side owed much to individuals making their first appearance for the 3s this season. In particular, veteran back rows Mark Rogers and Rob Cook were both late additions to the team.
The Bandits came under pressure very early, with a turnover in the lineout and a couple of quick penalties giving Gravesend field position. An early yellow card came somewhat harshly for Chris Bowdery, making his first appearance at hooker; the charge of not releasing was valid enough, although prop Ryan McSweeney was certainly the culprit. Quite how the 23 stone McSweeney was mistaken for 13.5 stone Bowdery remains unclear, but the incident did little for faith in the referee’s eyesight. Although Blackheath held out for some time with 14 men, eventually the pressure and phases built up and, after having been stopped short and held up twice, the home side got across the line and opened the scoring. This was followed with a second try soon after as Gravesend’s inside centre took advantage of a rare gap appearing in the Bandits line, and cruised through to double the lead.
Some phases of possession came for the Club, but an opportunity to score seemed elusive until a Gravesend clearance kick came to wing Johnny Moore, who proceeded to carve through the home side’s defence for a stunning individual try. This was one bright moment in an otherwise tough first half for the Bandits who, despite their efforts in defence, proceeded to let in another two tries before the break. A penalty kick was added to the Blackheath score, but with the half-time scoreline at 24-8, things needed to change.
Some strong carries from centre Rob Byrne and forwards Namir Khalil and McSweeney built some momentum, and the Club backs started to find more space. Fly-half Oli Chatterton and fullback Mark Lordan combined well a number of times to take the Bandits in to Gravesend territory and, as phases mounted, skipper Andy Lock broke the line. A passable impression of an elderly giraffe at the canter followed, and a half-hearted chase from the home side left Lock to run in a score under the posts from 35 yards; a distance which will doubtless grow exponentially in the retelling. Five minutes later, the space was worked again on the right wing by Chatterton, finding Moore who blasted through the Gravesend defence once more, and scored his second superb try of the match. With the score at 24-22, Gravesend showed they were still very much in the fight, and some Club indiscipline and a loose pass gave away the field position from which Gravesend restored their 7-point lead. The home side seemed to be taking better control of the game in the closing stages and the pressure mounted on the Blackheath line again. However, outside centre Sean Collett stole in for an interception and raced the length of the pitch for a fourth Bandits try and, with Byrne adding the conversion, tied the game up at 29-all with 9 minutes left on the clock.
The referee became prominent in the dying stages – scarcely a breakdown took place without a penalty being awarded to Gravesend, much to the bafflement of the Blackheath players and supporters. After a missed kick at goal by the home side, an attempt by Gravesend player to charge down the ensuing 22 drop-out was ignored, and play was hauled back for Club men being in front of the kicker. Another yellow card was shown; this time flanker Sim Obonyo judged to have competed illegally at the breakdown, and the Bandits were simply not allowed to play again. A final penalty was awarded dead in front of the Club posts, about 25 metres out, and with the clock expired, the Gravesend kicker slotted the 3 points and ended the match.
The Bandits will fancy their chances against Gravesend in the return fixture at Well Hall, but first have a couple of weeks off to recover. A huge amount of heart was shown in the match, with Johnny Moore named as the Club man-of-the-match. Rob Byrne was also excellent in attack and defence, as well as with the boot, and Mark Rogers put the Bandits on the front foot on his return to the side with several strong carries. The slow start needs a fix, and some more consistency in selection will doubtless help that. However, another tremendous fightback shows the will to win in the side, and results will doubtless come.