Dull moments were few and far between at Aylesford on Saturday, as the Bandits racked up their biggest win in the league this season, beating the Bulls’ 2nd team 24-51. Though the scoreline was convincing, there were nervous periods for Blackheath in the second half as errors and pressure from the home team looked to have created a way back in to the game; this was duly snuffed out in the final 15 minutes, however, as tired legs left space for the Club’s quick men, and three rapid-fire tries took the Bandits over 50 points for the first time this year.
Playing with the wind in the first half, Blackheath maintained decent field position, and showed much better discipline than in previous weeks around the offside line. Though Aylesford were highly competitive at the breakdown and the Bandits were not always convincing at the ruck, pressure told and, after some strong forward carries, scrum-half Kai Roper-Blackman broke the deadlock with a smart try. Two penalties were added in the first half by Sean Collett, and Aylesford took 3 points from a rare visit to the Blackheath 22 with a well-struck drop goal after twenty-five minutes. Thereafter, events rather went against the home side; their strongest forward runner was taken off after a blow to the head, and Roper-Blackman scored his second try of the afternoon, breaking away from just outside the Club 22, skipping past defenders and leaving a half-hearted chase for dead. Soon after the restart the Bandits were back in Aylesford territory and, from a scrum on the home side’s 5m line, Number 8 Cam Squire picked and got close enough for Andy Lock to crash over the line and take the score to 3-25.
In addition to death and taxes, the third thing in life of which you can seemingly be sure is a Bandits wobble. This came early in the second half, with a dropped ball in midfield not being played in expectation of a whistle, which never came. The Aylesford 12 pounced on the ball, ran to within a few yards of the Club line and found a supporting player who crossed for the home side’s first try. Twenty competitive minutes followed, with the Bandits struggling for territory as Aylesford had done in the first half, and the scoreline was narrowed after a good break off the base of a scrum took the Bulls close enough to the Blackheath line to get over. Better phases and strong runs from Namir Khalil, Ryan McSweeney and Sim Obonyo created the space for Sean Collett to add to his kicked points, with a fine team try on the hour mark. This was cancelled out soon after, however, as a breakout by Roper-Blackman and Reyhan Taraq ended in another spilled ball, and Club defenders fell over each other as Aylesford ran through the stretched Bandits. This try took the score to 24-32 going in to the final 15 minutes, and Blackheath looked to have set up an unnecessarily interesting finale.
Ultimately, the mounting tiredness, which led to Aylesford’s third try, worked in Blackheath’s favour in the closing stages. Attacking out of their 22 once again, Obonyo and Lock drew defenders in and set outside centre Oli Chatterton loose, who in turn found fullback Jonny Moore with some space on the right wing, to cruise down the touchline and score. Moore, having had a busy but unrewarded game up to that point, was the recipient of an indifferent clearance kick just minutes later, and proceeded to carve a line through the fatigued Aylesford defenders for his second try. As the clock ran down, Roper-Blackman, who was duly named player of the match, broke away once more from a ruck on the halfway line, found support from Chatterton and Taraq, who combined to take the ball to within 10m of the Aylesford line and offload to Lock, who ended the contest with his second and the Bandits’ seventh try of the game.
Following two narrow defeats and a couple of weeks off, this victory was a very welcome one for the 3rd XV, who host runaway league leaders Old Colfeians 2s at Well Hall next week. There were excellent performances across the team, notably Kai Roper-Blackman, but also young back row forwards Namir Khalil and Reyhan Taraq, whose energy, tackling, carrying and set-piece work have been invaluable this season. Returning players Rory Eves, Cam Squire and Cormac Mcmahon also made valuable contributions, and Matt Jones’s performance since ‘giving tight-head a whirl’ has been nothing short of a revelation. Bring on Colfes.