London Irish Amateur Bs vs Blackheath Bandits
Saturday 9 September 2023
The Club social team kicked off their season with a friendly at London Irish on Saturday, in conditions which left many wondering when the freezing cold and driving rain might make a welcome return. When sun cream is being applied in the changing rooms rather than deep heat, one can be assured that the weather is warm. Both sides toiled in the heat, but the firm pitch made for some great running rugby, with Blackheath coming second to the hosts with a final score of 31-17.
The Bandits have a history of starting slowly, and found themselves behind after approximately 80 seconds, which became a 10-0 head-start for Irish inside 8 minutes. Intense enthusiasm combining with traditional early-season handling was the problem in both cases, with efforts to run out from deep ending up with lost balls and Irish were able to scamper in for two early scores. The home side showed great attacking intent, with powerful carrying ability from their back rows and centres in particular, combining with a very strong offload game. Blackheath responded with some attacking skill of their own on the quarter hour however, with a training ground move from a lineout on the halfway line. New prop Neil Barton pinned the Irish defence with a strong carry, creating space out wide for wing Dan Gilmour and centre Jonny Moore to combine and outflank their opposite numbers. Moore scored the try and the day’s captain Zac Bainbridge slotted the conversion. The game remained combative for the rest of the first half with chances for both sides, but the score at half-time was 10-7.
Though the lineout worked well all day for the Club, the same could not be said for the scrum, in which Irish were dominant throughout. The way the big forwards stuck to the task was commendable in the heat, but veteran scrum-half and CrossFit enthusiast Nik Dinning was left to deal with some scrappy ball at times. Pressure built quickly after the break and Irish were able to gain some good territory which led to a penalty which was tapped, the ball spun wide and the try scored in space. Penalties then came in turn for Blackheath, with London Irish’s big centre often struggling to tackle low enough for the new laws. An inch of space came for new back-row Charlie Jonnysmate, who slipped one tackle, jinked through another, powered through a third and broke away to run in an impressive score from the halfway line. As exhaustion set in through the last quarter, the game became increasingly chaotic and imprecise, and Blackheath felt a little aggrieved with the hosts’ fourth try, as the referee was still talking to the Club forwards as a tap penalty was taken and Irish broke away to score. The Bandits found enough energy to threaten again however, and some quick ruck balls and hard carrying pushed the hosts offside; the call of ‘JOUEZ’ went up, Bainbridge chipped over the slowly retiring green shirts, and Club inside centre Ed Bagshaw dashed between them, gathered the ball and scored under the posts.
The home team profited from further chaos to score a final try in the game’s last minute, which gave them a slightly flattering scoreline. Ultimately the Bandits can be pleased and proud of their performance, and impressive starting debuts in the pack for Neil Barton and flanker Lewis Gibb are all good reasons to be cheerful. The league season starts against Dartfordians next week.