Sam Windsor will make his 60th consecutive appearance in a Club shirt. Photo: Helen Watson
This Saturday, Blackheath complete their league programme for 2011-12 with the visit of old rivals Rosslyn Park. Kick-off at the Rectory Field is at 3pm.
So here we are at the end of the campaign, and what a campaign it’s been. Who would have thought, when it all began with these protagonists at Roehampton on August bank holiday weekend, that Club would have broken so many records this season; for that matter, there weren’t all that many signs of it at Christmas!
Back on the first day of the season, in front of a depleted crowd, worn thin by holiday absence, Blackheath and Park stuttered through their fixture. The two packs largely cancelled each other out, Park were ascendant in the loose, Club were better in the tight, neither set of backs looked deadly.
In the second half Club started to look much more like the team which had beaten London Scottish at the Athletic Ground on their last away trip of the previous term. Richard Bright’s first try on his debut and Adam Armstrong’s penalty put the visitors ahead by one point late on but the Devonian’s and the Lancastrian’s efforts were to be in vain as an error at a lineout 8 minutes into added time allowed Nev Edwards to score the winner for the hosts. Final score 26 – 20.
Club were to lose two more matches before finally opening their account at the Rectory Field against Cinderford three weeks later. It appears in hindsight that opening the season against Park, Ealing and Jersey on consecutive weekends was always going to be a difficult task and so it proved.
Park stormed on from their narrow win and despite an early loss to Sedgley Park, they established themselves as promotion candidates and reached third place in the league by Christmas. Along the way, they put together a run of 11 wins from 12 matches (the only loss between 1st October and 1st January coming at the hands of Coventry, and that by the smallest possible margin). In the run up to the festivities they beat Ealing at Vallis Way (after Blackheath had softened them up!) to add to the earlier scalp of Fylde at the Woodlands.
But then something went wrong. Their form since Christmas has been very different, they have won 4 games, drawn 1 and lost 7. Whilst National 1 has been a free-scoring festival these last few weeks, Park seem to have lost their try-scoring mojo, only scoring 4 tries or more on 3 occasions since beating Cambridge in their first January fixture. Edwards has run in 9 scores in 26 appearances whilst their highest scorer is Miles Mantella of England Sevens and Harlequins, who has managed 16 scores from 18 starts but has not played now since 3rd March.
Park’s other danger-men include classy former Blackheath and London Irish centre, Charlie Gower, and a quality lock forward combination of Dan Lloyd Jones, previously of Barking, and Rob Anderson, once of Esher. Fly half Ross Laidlaw has racked up 227 points this season.
Blackheath’s 10th consecutive BP win and 8th away victory of the season at Bees last weekend, combined with the draw between Ealing and Fylde, put Club into 3rd place in the league. If this position is sustained to the end of Saturday, it would crown Blackheath’s best season since the promotion year of 2003-4. What’s more, this has been achieved with a flowing style of rugby perhaps not previously regarded as synonymous with the Club style, whose pack has so often been the defining factor in past victories, and that has made it all the better to watch from the big step.
Performance Director Yusuf Ibrahim says ‘All the torrential rain we’ve had will have a big impact on conditions which is a pity because both teams will be looking to play fast open rugby.’
‘Head Coach Jan Bonney has done a fantastic job at Rosslyn Park, building a very solid side in all areas and with Ross Laidlaw back in the starting line-up they have, arguably, the best fly-half in the league.’
‘He’s a sharp thinker with a keen rugby brain and a fine boot.’
The referee for the match is Mr Ross Campbell and the touch judges are Mr Leo Burton and Mr Phil Bowers.
Regrettably for the many ladies who are gracing the Rectory Field on Saturday, the sun doesn’t look like it will be doing the same. The weather forecast is for increasing cloud with rain moving up from the south. Let’s hope it holds off until after the game.
If you are not coming to the Rectory Field this weekend, don’t forget that you can keep up to date with match reports from our touchline reporter, the always-excellent Graham Cox on BBC Radio Kent.
Blackheath Team News
Sam Windsor makes his 60th consecutive appearance this Saturday since joining the Club in the summer of 2010, all but one of which have been in the starting line-up, a phenomenal achievement.
Richard returns to celebrate with his younger sibling in the midfield, the only change to the personnel who took to the field at Birmingham & Solihull last week, while Markus Burcham moves to the bench to be joined by a fit-again Charlie Woodall and Adam Gelman who replaces Simon Legg, out with a back niggle.
Blackheath First XV V Rosslyn Park Bees HOME 28th April 2012
15. Mike Canty
14. Tom Chapman
13. Dave Bonner
12. Richard Windsor
11. James Stephenson
10. Sam Windsor
9. Jack Walsh
1. James Cleverly
2. Gavin O’Meara
3. Des Brett
4. Tom Bason (C)
5. Neil Dewale
6. Richard Pike
7. Dave Allen
8. James Catt
16. Charlie Woodall
17. Adam Gelman
18. Truman Sullivan
19. Markus Burcham
20. Ben Ibrahim
Around the Grounds by Saturnate
This year's league outcome has concluded early and the rotund female of the species having completed her final arios is safely ensconced in her limousine and on her way back to Tuscany until next season. However, we still have one final Saturday of matches where both pride and league position bragging rights are to be played for.
When this year's champions welcome Fylde to the island, they will be hoping to end the season on a high note and take revenge for their opening game defeat at the hands of today's opponents. This should be an excellent game, pitting the Islanders' all round game and supreme defence against the League's top try scorers with their single minded 'run it from anywhere' game plan. For much of the season the Lancastrians looked like genuine title contenders, and they will be keen to match the Trailfinders’ achievements and put another dent in Jersey's home record, and sour the taste of the specially brewed Champion's Ale from the local Liberation brewery.
Ealing, who are safe in second place, welcome relegated Bees to West London, where the ground conditions following this week’s incessant rain may benefit the visitors’ more forward-orientated game where they will be aptly marshalled by the boot of Woodrow. However, unless Birmingham can starve the Trailfinders of possession it seems almost inconceivable that they will be able to stop the home side's back three from scoring on the expansive turf at Vallis Way, where they will be keen to snatch the title of the League's top try scorers from Fylde who they trail by one.
The other two relegated teams, Barking and Stourbridge, both meet teams from the North East, away at Blaydon and home to Tynedale respectively. It's difficult to see how Barking will out-muscle a powerful home pack who have good form at home. However, it's in just these circumstances that the Eastenders have produced their best results. Stour, on the other hand, will look to give their home support something to cheer about against Tynedale who have struggled for form recently, only winning one of their last nine.
Elsewhere the Coventry management have announced that they will be significantly increasing their playing budget over the next two years in order to achieve promotion, however, that won't do them any good this weekend when they travel to Cinderford who haven't lost a home game in 2012. Whilst Wharfedale entertain Macclesfield, who if rumours are to be believed will be without the influential Mulchrone brothers next year who are the team's top two try scorers, and finally Sedgley Park host Cambridge.
A doff of the cap to Dave Penberthy, Director of Rugby at Redruth, who is retiring from that position after today. Dave is a gentleman of the game and has been a beacon of good sportsmanship in Cornwall these many years, DP will be continuing in his role with the South West U18’s.
Kent rugby’s annus mirabilis continues (with the exception of Combe) with Tonbridge Juddians in the play-off for promotion to National 3 South, to which Canterbury are already promoted having finished Champions of National 3 London and South East. Judds travel to Chinnor, who finished runners up in National 3 South West. The Oxfordshire side have the advantage of playing at home, having won 23 games and 114 points in the season, to Tonbridge’s 103.
The top of National 2 South is not yet quite resolved as leaders Old Albanians could still be overhauled at the top by Richmond. OAs travel to Launceston, and Richmond have a difficult tie at 4th-placed Hartpury College.
And that just about wraps it up for another season. Many thanks go to Tim Sullivan for his debut season of ‘Around the Grounds’, Kris Hannah for checking the apostro-thingies and Graham Cox for filling in the gaps when I can’t post in person. Thanks also to Yusuf for putting up with the daft questions and the players for their co-operation and candour, to Albert for his on-going support, and finally to my wife Claire and children Maddy and Jamie who put up with their Club-obsessive dad with patience and understanding.
Lastly to you dear reader for looking in on this little column each week, I hope it has brought you joy. Thank you for the kind words of support (and the ribald micky-taking) and I look forward to all the same abuse next season.
See you in the bar.
Left Hand Top Terrac