by Nick Sullivan
Blackheath don’t have much time to shake off the New Year hangover as they are already back on the road this weekend. Part Two of the season begins with a trip to the Forest of Dean to face Cinderford.
Cinderford (16th) seem to make a habit of living around the bottom of the table for the first half of a season only to charge out of danger in the second. Last year was a particularly hair-raising example, scoring over 30 points in each of their last four games to take four bonus-point wins out of four and escape the dreaded drop with the final game of the season. They have started this season in similar vein, with only three wins to their name so far and sitting bottom of the league on 18 points. The pack seems to have lost some ooomph this year, leaving the Forest of Dean side playing more from the back foot than they would wish.
Towards the end of November, less than a year into the job, Cinders parted company with the man who masterminded last season’s escape, Director of Rugby Nic Corrigan, in the face of the club’s poor run of results. Paul Morris, the Stags (2nds) and Under-20s manager has taken control in the interim. Although results have, perhaps, not gone their way since, there seems to be more confidence around the club and a feeling that some big performances are not far off. Influential England Counties’ full back and captain Mike Wilcox has been moved from his more familiar position to play at 10 in an effort to get the ball moving once it emerges from the pack.
Blackheath’s record at Dockham Road can, at a push, be described as ‘middling’, with three wins from seven visits. Despite the Gloucestershire’s side’s current woes, the men from Southeast London know this is a difficult place to get a result and will have to think twice before having that final egg-nog. And for one particular player, new Club fullback Leo Fielding, a chance to renew acquaintances with his team mates from last season.
Past Meetings and Recent Results
Those three wins from seven include the most recent – a narrow 14 – 17 victory last year, although the season before witnessed a humbling 25 – 0 loss as Blackheath failed to get to grips with their opponents on a cold and muddy November day.
More recently this season, a win in early December over fellow strugglers Blaydon followed by a strong, albeit ultimately losing, performance against Rosslyn Park looked like they might presage a turning point but hopes were dashed – temporarily at least – with a loss away at Henley in the last game before Christmas.
Despite each side having the benefit of the gale force winds for half the game, Blaydon’s visit on 5 December proved to be an attritional game, with each side pressing when they had the wind at their backs, but unable to convert pressure into points. A try apiece in each half, but the wind making a mess of conversion attempts, saw Cinderford hold on for a narrow 12 – 10 win in only their second match under Paul Morris’ guidance.
At home again the following week, but this time for a trickier looking opponent in the form of Rosslyn Park. Poor conditions again played their part and, despite a couple of early tries for the visitors, once Cinderford settled, the points came. The hosts 10 – 13 down at half time but, immediately after the break, a dramatic converted try gave Cinders a lead which they held almost to the death. The remainder of the half witnessed handling errors all around and it was only a quickly taken tap penalty deep into injury time that gave the visitors a converted try and snatch the 17 – 20 win.
The pre-Christmas encounter at the then bottom-placed Henley Hawks, was an opportunity to build on these results. The Hawks, though, were not doling out the Xmas cheer early and generally held the upper hand in a largely unstructured game. Two tries early in the second half really did the damage, letting the Hawks accelerate from a 10 -8 lead at the break to a 22 – 8 advantage and forcing their guests to chase the game. A rally from Cinders brought some respite but it was short lived, and Henley ended up bonus point 27 – 13 victors, jumping their guests at the foot of the table.
Match Day Details
Kick off at Dockham Road (GL14 2AQ) is at 3pm. Officiating is Thomas Davis, ably assisted around the edges by Ian Bibey and Fred Spong.
The weather. Mother Nature is not particularly bothered that it’s a new year. Windy. Rainy. Possibly even foggy. Any heavy rain early in the morning should pass over by kick off but there is a danger of fog. Temperatures are expected to be around 7 degrees with an 11mph north wind to boot.
If you are not travelling to Gloucestershire 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 5.15 pm.
Blackheath First XV V Cinderford AWAY 2 January 2016
15. Geoff GRIFFITHS
14. Jake LLOYD
13. Markus BURCHAM (Capt)
12. Simon WHATLING
11. Dan HAMILTON
10. Freddie GABBITASS
9. Jack WALSH
1. Aston CROALL
2. Scott WRIGHT
3. Kieron SCUTT
4. Gregor GILLANDERS
5. Tom STRADWICK
6. Tom BALDWIN
7. Dave ALLEN
8. Chris SEWELL
16. Harry FRY
17. Bertie HASKINS
18. Tom ELLIS
19. Tom CHAPMAN
20. Leo FIELDING
Around the Grounds
Elsewhere, Blaydon (13th) look to put their nightmare before Christmas behind them, although it is a tough ask as they take on the big mobile Ampthill (7th) pack at Crow Trees.
Coventry (10th) will be hoping that Loughborough Students (12th) are still on holiday as the latter visit the Butts Park Arena. Esher (4th) welcome in-need-of-points Wharfedale (15th) to Molesey Road and Fylde (9th) kick off the New Year with a visit from high flying Hartpury College (3rd).
Henley Hawks (14th) are hoping to kick off the New Year with a blast as they host Darlington Mowden Park (8th) at Dry Leas and Hull Ionians (11th) will be on their mettle as leaders Richmond (1st) hit Humberside. Finally, sixth visit fifth as Plymouth Albion hope to miss the holiday traffic as they travel to South West London and Rosslyn Park.
So, have a Happy New Year, Good luck Blackheath and Come On Youuuu Cluuuuuub!