Photos courtesy of Deborah Lloyd
A bonus point victory to take Blackheath six-points clear at the top of National League Two East and, if not a vintage performance, a fitting result to mark a 200th Club appearance for Tom Stradwick.
In a messy game, befitting a damp, grey, windy afternoon, Blackheath produced enough in the opening period of their first-ever visit to Magnolia Road to withstand a spirited Rochford resurgence in the second half.
For that Stradwick, now in his eleventh season in Club colours, should take huge credit. The second-row and forwards’ coach is the master tactician and performer in Blackheath’s lineout play, but on this day, it was his display, alongside captain Ed Taylor, in the engine room of the scrum, behind the solid buttresses of Archie Holland, Ollie Walliker and Andy Boye (the latter making an excellent return after injury) that proved decisive.
The Club’s set-piece provided such an effective wrecking-ball, that Blackheath were able to pick through the debris for three tries and a 19-0 lead by the interval.
Two scrum penalties early on went unrewarded, as the visitors were guilty of a double-movement, but on 17 minutes a 10-metre shove allowed Oli Claxton to release Jake Lloyd to the goal-line, and as ball moved inside, Jake Hennessey crossed for the opening try.
Moments later, Markus Burcham was shrugging off tacklers, after possession had been ripped from the hosts by Tom Baldwin, and Stradwick made 10-metres, for a second score, and scrum domination returned in the 27th minute, as Rochford repeatedly infringed on their own goal-line, and Baldwin touched down around at the base.
However, for a side in such convincing form, Blackheath’s penalty count has been a notable blemish on their season to date, and after a tidy first period, it returned to haunt them after the break with a total in double figures.
Rochford too had served notice they weren’t throwing in the towel, with three mighty tackles just prior to the interval, and now the Essex side had much the better of the third quarter as they stretched the visitors and watched their discipline wobble.
Astute kicking and ball movement led to sustained pressure, and soon brought about the biggest cheer of the afternoon, as hooker Caley Gray crossed from lineout ball.
Nevertheless, fortified by the introduction of Alex Witchell and Charlie McCallum to their front-row, Blackheath’s scrum regained control, and as Alex Brown bounced one tackle, Baldwin crashed over for his second try.
Rochford wing Seth Mokuolu collected Jake Spivey’s neat box-kick before returning the ball to the former Club scrum-half for the hosts’ second score, but it was opposite number Chris Bell who gained the final word, crossing after Blackheath turned possession following Tom Ffitch’s long hoof up field.
Blackheath now return to Well Hall for their first home game of 2023 as they host Kent rivals Canterbury. Kick-off on Saturday 14th January is at 3.00 pm.
Tries: Gray 53, Spivey 75
Tries: Hennessey 17, Burcham 20, Baldwin 27, 68, Bell 80
Conv: Ffitch 17, 27, 68