The 2021-22 season will not sit happily in the annals of Blackheath Rugby.
Just seven wins from 28 matches saw the Club relegated from National League One, losing a position they’d held solidly for 18 consecutive years in domestic rugby’s third tier.
Many of those years had seen them challenging near the top of the table, and seeking a coveted place in The Championship, but now they find themselves in a revamped National League Two East for the forthcoming 2022-23 campaign.
‘It’s not the year we wanted, for sure,’ said head coach James Shanahan.
‘We lost a lot of players coming out of lockdown, and almost had to assemble an entire new squad on limited budget,’ he continued.
‘There were a few good results, but no consistency, and when it came to the crunch, we lost to the other clubs around us fighting relegation. In the end, we just weren’t good enough and got what we deserved.’
Nevertheless, no sooner had demotion been confirmed, Shanahan was committing himself to the challenge of Blackheath bouncing back at the first time of asking in what he is heralding as the ‘Blackheath Renaissance’.
‘We’re reviving the focus on the entire club, not just the senior squad, but right through from minis, juniors, girls and women.’
‘Holding on to our talented youth can be tricky when guys start heading for university and so on, but we’ve had a number of former Colts training with, and playing for the 1st team in pre-season. All our senior squad are scheduled to run training sessions with the youth sides, we want the whole club to get behind what we’re aiming to achieve.’
However, Blackheath won’t just be relying on home grown ability this term.
‘At the same time, we’ve looked to add quality from outside the club to strengthen certain areas, most notably up front where we were under-powered last season. We aim to be bigger, stronger, and better equipped for a variety of styles and add that bit of magic we’ve been missing.’
Shanahan and Blackheath will also have to adapt to a new set of opponents for this season, many of whom they’ve never played in league competition before, and starting with the visit of Dorking tomorrow.
‘We’re looking forward to going to a lot of new places this season. With a more regional league, there’ll be a lot of local derbies, and some partisan crowds, including tomorrow.’
‘Dorking had a great season last year, winning promotion, and I’m sure will be relishing their first visit to Well Hall. We’ll need to be on top of our game from the outset.’
Blackheath v Dorking is 3 pm kick-off at Well Hall tomorrow.
Photo: Andy Wansbury