The Big Match: Blackheath v Darlington Mowden Park

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by Nick Sullivan


Usually when you get a line of three oranges, money pops out the bottom of the fruit machine and you grin like a fish. After you’ve probably been drinking like one. Assuming, that is, you are not bedazzled by an array of flashing lights, new buttons to press and ‘double or nothing’ options.

Not so for the Secretary of this weekend’s visitors to the Rectory Field. When he put his 2p in the slot and pulled the handle of the NCA fixture machine, I bet he wasn’t expecting the three-in-a-row he got. And I bet that made him realise why they call them bandits. Because it wasn’t the multiple ker-chink of 1,408 coins spewing out of the little tray he heard, but the sound of that many miles to travel over the course of three weeks.

Tomorrow, on their second of three away trips in a row, we welcome Darlington Mowden Park to South East London. That three week schedule sees them taking in possibly the best team in the league, along with Rosslyn Park and Ampthill who are no pushovers either. Of course, it makes itself up by the end of the season, with them having four back to back home fixtures in January.

DMP hit National One for the first time last year accompanied by stories of pots of money to spend, Championship promotion candidates and armed with a 25,000 seater stadium. Inevitably there was some exaggeration in the mix and, whilst promotion probably remains a goal, they appear to be building steadily.

Recruitment in the closed season looks to have been fairly limited in numbers, but some real quality players have turned up at the Northern Echo Arena for the 2015/16 outing. Coach Danny Brown has coaxed Italian ‘A’ back row Luca Petillo; live wire former Argentina 7s scrum half Bruno Bravo (who some may recall seeing play for Donny against Blackheath two seasons ago); powerful former 7 turned centre Ben Frankland, who has terrorised Blackheath in Tynedale colours on more than one occasion; another Tyne face in flanker Matt Charters; and England U20s and former Rotherham and London Scottish winger Peter Homan. Club supporters will remember the impact Pete made wearing the red-and-black for a few games on loan from Scottish a couple of seasons ago. Other faces making headlines so far are impressive flanker Callum MacKenzie and powerful South Sea lock Talite Vaioleti who seems to make ground every time he has the ball.

Blackheath will be wary of the threat posed by DMP. Currently in 9th place, having lost two of three, belies the fact that they are a strong side across the board. A 9 point loss at Rosslyn Park last weekend – despite playing most of the game with only 14 men on the pitch – and a defeat at home by Henley when, by their own account, they simply didn’t turn up, are the blots on the copy book. This weekend, they will be looking to make amends, although it seems likely that they will be without new No 9 Bruno Bravo, who was on the wrong end of a red card last weekend and No 10 Grant Connon, who picked up a knock against Ross Park.

Anyone following another rugby competition on at the moment may have picked up that the world’s second most exciting side (behind the Chrysanthemum Blossoms of Japan) are using DMP’s stadium as a training base. And there is an All Black feel at the Rectory Field this weekend as Air New Zealand’s #SQUAD Photo Booth van will be on site. The what? Well…

Air New Zealand have a #SQUAD Photo Booth van, where you can snap a photo and be in with a chance to win the #SQUAD holiday of a lifetime, a legendary trip to New Zealand with you and up to nine of your mates. The whole idea is that friends and team mates can have an interactive photo session and spread it on social media, with all the related hashtags, and there are trips to New Zealand to be won. The van will be at the club pretty much all day, so match day spectators can use it.
Past Meetings and Recent Results

The two sides have only met in recent years last season. The men in red and black will want to forget their trip to Darlington last November when they got lost in the fog and fell to a 50 – 10 loss, their heaviest defeat of the season.

Partial revenge followed four months later when, on a balmy March day, Blackheath held on to secure a 29 – 27 win.

The start of this season has seen DMP lay at least one ghost. Since their promotion to National Three North for the 2012/13 outing, they had not won their opening fixture, but that changed three weeks ago with a trip to the Forest of Dean. Not that the first few minutes gave them any hope… an yellow card in the first five minutes for DMP lock Tom Jubb, for dragging down an attacking maul, may have had the fans thinking ‘here we go again’. Cinderford, though, failed to capitalise on the ensuing penalty and a few minutes later it was visiting centre Ben Frankland who crossed the line at the other end of the field, the score topped by the first of 4 from 4 successful conversions by No 10 Garry Law. This was soon followed up by new boy Bruno Bravo’s dart around the back of a mall for number two before Cinderford replied with a fine individual run from centre Tom Hanks. Cinders were beginning to cede ground at the scrum, conceded a couple of penalties and were then really undone with an interception try from DMP’s Law. Despite the home side pulling back a second try before the half, the men from Darlington were 12 – 30 to the good at the break. A couple of substitutions, and a stern talking to, seemed to settle Cinderford at half time and they appeared more composed after the break. A far more even second period wasn’t punctuated until visiting lock Tom Jubb completed a 22 meter charge across the try line to take DMP’s score out to 37. That was the spur Cinderford needed and, although the game was already beyond them, they did dot down two late tries for a 4-try bonus and a final score of 24 – 37.

The following weekend, DMP returned home for the visit of Henley Hawks. The hosts struggled to handle the Hawks’ powerful scrum and conceded three tries in the opening period – 1 from the back of the scrum and 2 from the back of mauls – to go in 0 – 20 down at the half. This continued into the second half, with DMP conceding penalties in the face of the trundling Henley Machine. It took a change of tack to even the game up and, as DMP began to throw the ball around, the Henley defence was unlocked. Well supported runs from backs and forwards stretched the visitors’ defence and tries from scrum half Bruno Bravo, flanker Callum MacKenzie and two from hooker Simon Uzokwe put their side back into the game. Henley, though, were still able to make gains through their forwards and a further rumble across the line and a late penalty eventually let them edge out the game 28 – 30.

The final match of the three was last weekend’s trip to Rosslyn Park. A hat-trick from skipper Hugo Ellis ultimately undid the visitors although, by all accounts, the real spectacle was the contest between powerful DMP lock Talite Vaioleti and Ross flanker Sam Shires. Darlington were in the game 11—10 at half time, but Bruno Bravo’s sending off early in the second half made the job far more difficult and, despite battling, Park were able to push on to a 26 – 17 victory.


Match Day Details

Kick off at is at 3pm. Officiating is Fergus Kirby ably assisted by Simon Dodd and Christopher Bartlett.

The weather. The autumnal feel of the last couple of days should continue into the weekend. Mostly importantly, no rain. It should be pretty settled, patches of warm sunshine, temperatures around 15 degrees and only a light 6 mph easterly breeze.

If you are not visiting Rectory Field this weekend, don’t forget the always excellent Graham Cox on BBC Radio Kent (96.7 FM, 104.2 FM, 774 AM, DAB & On-line) who provides live score updates and reports, post-match interviews, plus a full round-up National League results for all Kent clubs around 5.45 pm.
Team News

Blackheath First XV V Darlington Mowden Park HOME 26 September 2015

14. Mike MVELASE
13. Markus BURCHAM (Capt)
12. Simon WHATLING
11. Jake LLOYD
10. Freddie GABBITTAS
9. Jack WALSH
1. Aston CROALL
2. Scott WRIGHT
3. Terry READ
7. Dave ALLEN
8. James CATT

16. George EDGSON
17. Kieron SCUTT
18. Tom ELLIS
20. Mark BRIANT
Around the Grounds

Elsewhere around the country, Ampthill (1st), the only remaining side with a 100% record, host our opponents from last weekend Henley (14th). Hull Ionians (7th), having vanquished Plymouth last weekend, line up for a second tough home fixture in a row as they face unbeaten Rosslyn Park (2nd). The second unexpected victor from last weekend, Hartpury College (4th) (who beat Cov for anyone who missed it), return home for the visit of Esher (6th).

At the other end of the league, propping up the table Loughborough Students (16th) open their doors to leaky Blaydon (13th). Plymouth Albion (10) welcome Fylde (12th) to Brickfields and Coventry (3rd) are hoping to bounce back from last weekend’s defeat as they travel to south west London to face Richmond (8th). Finally, Wharfedale’s (11th) first win of the season last time out will gee them up as Cinderford (15th) roll into North Yorkshire.
Good luck Blackheath and Come On Youuuu Cluuuuuub!

Graham Cox

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