Blackheath 43 Old Elthamians 25
Yellow Fever Strikes Again as Elthamians Succumb in Final
After light refreshment at Foxbury the team left the early supporters enjoying the bar and boarded the luxury coach for the journey to distant Ashford. All the Kent finals were held at Ashford's ground to maximise the teams’ exposure to rugby supporters from across the county. OEs under 17s were already there, having played and won their final against Westcombe Park. Well done, boys!
The final referee was Matthew Carley, who has enjoyed officiating in the U20 6 Nations and was the guinea pig for the ‘Ref Cam’. His refereeing was pleasantly unobtrusive – compared to recent weeks.
Blackheath kicked off with a slight breeze. Although light on the coaching front – we expected to see Yusuf Ibrahim and Mike Friday – it was obvious the playing front had no weaknesses: a full-on first team awaited Elthamians.
The ‘Club’ claimed the first penalty on four minutes as one of the Old Boys’ pack was caught not releasing his tackled player: again too many penalties conceded hurt the Old Boys. It was kicked to touch but a bad throw-in ruined the chance. OEs cleared their lines to Blackheath’s full back, and his kick was too long – scrum to OEs between 22m and 10m lines. Was this scrappy play the sign of things to come?
A few minutes later it was Blackheath’s turn to be offside and Tom White struck the first blow with the penalty; 0-3. We had been here before, going in front before losing the game.
The Elthamian curse hit us after only 14 minutes: a yellow card for John Hosken for illegal use of the boot in a ruck. Down to 14 men against a team two leagues above did not look like a good idea. As it happens Blackheath did not capitalise on this sin-bin; they just had to wait for OEs to keep offending and eventually tire.
Renford Bennett, top try-scorer in National 3 LSE, looked like he was a man on a mission. After 17 minutes he came off his line and broke a couple of tackles before being brought down inside the 22. A few runs in this game - against decent opposition - will have helped his confidence.
With 22 minutes gone a Blackheath were awarded a penalty for not releasing in a ruck; fly-half Dunne missed with his attempt at goal.
Elthamians forwards, always in a battle with the premier side in Kent, started to force the play a little and were rewarded with a penalty after 24 minutes for holding on in a ruck. White kicked to the corner to set up a catch and drive. Bennett popped up again in midfield and, released earlier than in previous games, he got going and beat a couple of defenders. The covering tackles got him, however, and he was forced into touch 10m out from the Blackheath line.
Bennett tried again as a good combination between him and his fellow winger George Smith pushed play up the middle to find support from the forwards.
Blackheath attempted the same catch and drive move after a penalty to the corner; in their case it worked: a 30-minute try to a back row forward. Dunne did well with the kick and ‘Club’ were in front, 7-3.
Elthamians now felt they had to respond, and some good work in midfield involving Jonny Williams, Rob White and Bennett was undone as a knock-on terminated a promising move.
Mr Carley decided that it was time for a break: half time; 7-3.
OEs started the second period hoping to profit from the breeze at their backs. Immediately, good hands put Rob White inside on a break which was snuffed out down the middle, but Blackheath had strayed offside. Tom White added the penalty from the 10m line; 7-6. Were we looking at a great comeback?
After the restart a high tackle gave Blackheath a chance from a penalty, but Dunne missed to the left from the 10m line. Three minutes later Harry Ledger was given a yellow card, presumably linked to the high tackle. Another period of ten minutes with 14.
The Old Boys’ defence was starting to take a pounding as the red and black shirts made deep inroads by passing to the player in space. Dunne was able to stretch their lead with a penalty for a deliberate knock on as defenders chanced their arms; 10-6.
Blackheath now tightened the screw and the Old Boys began to suffer with injuries. From the kick off they rescued the ball and close work saw inside centre Ellis slip a couple of half-hearted tackles to release his wing, Raybe. He committed the defence and no. 8 Allen powered over for a try. Dunne had found his kicking boots; 17-6.
Dunne himself then added a try, combining well with Raybe to go through a gap. He also got the conversion; 24-6.
At this point, with more than half of the second half gone, OEs were looking down a barrel. The crowd, always favouring the underdogs, became restless as there seemed no way back for the Chislehurst outfit. However from a penalty to touch a good catch and drive pushed Blackheath’s forwards back and the White brothers combined well for Tom to get a touchdown out wide. His conversion attempt missed, but OEs now had a try on the board; 24-11.
That effort seemed to drain the yellow and blues as Blackheath’s centre Ellis added to the try count. In what should be a lesson, the defenders would have noticed how space was preserved by intelligent running lines and how a simple pass at the right time pays dividends. Dunne misfired again; 29-11.
A minute later Blackheath’s no.8 repeated the trick as Elthamian defenders watched the ball go right, then left, then over the line. Dunne succeeded; 36-11. Game up.
Two minutes later, however, winger Smith scored a great effort under the posts. Tom White passed long to Ledger and he put Smith in off the wing for an unopposed run to the line. White got the kick; 36-18.
Blackheath added their final score as no.8 Allen completed his hat-trick of tries in a final, with a drive from a lineout. Dunne did well again; 43-18.
OEs were not done yet, however, Tom White converting his own well-taken try to give a final score of 43-25.
Gavin Lach rued the yellow cards and injuries a hard game had inflicted on his players: “It was Blackheath’s three tries while we were down to 13 men which really made the difference.”
So, a bit of a lesson in a final. That’s the second final in three years for Elthamians, so things are not looking too bad. After a great season in National 3 a relaxing summer beckons.