OEs' derby delight as Lespierre cuts loose
A three-try burst in the opening 10 minutes saw OEs claim the bragging rights in South London on a history-making afternoon at College Meadow.
Old Elthamians 32 Blackheath 7
After all the hype and preamble, after half a season of anticipation, eight breathless minutes at the start of this eagerly awaited first ever competitive South London derby effectively ended the match as a contest before it had barely begun.
That was the time it took for OEs winger Dom Lespierre to instigate a stunning three-try opening salvo as Elthamians raced into a 19-0 lead while some supporters were still settling pitch-side with their pints.
From then on a shell-shocked Blackheath side were always playing catch-up and although they fought back with plenty of possession and territory during this pulsating encounter - as well as enjoying an advantage at scrum-time - they could only breach the wall of yellow and blue shirts in the closing moments with the home side reduced to 12 players.
Defensively, Elthamians were exceptional. Their aggression and full blooded commitment in the tackle and at the gain line continually forced Blackheath into a succession of errors whenever they threatened to claw their way back into the match.
OEs Director of Rugby Gavin Lach admitted afterwards his side’s ‘magnificent’ defence was the key to victory on a remarkable afternoon full of talking points at College Meadow. “I thought we stood up to be counted,” he said. “The players were absolutely outstanding and I couldn’t have asked for anything more from them against a very good Blackheath side. We got off to a dream start with those three early tries which gave us the momentum. And then our defence was simply magnificent. Even when we were 30-odd points ahead, we kept knocking red shirts back on the gain line.”
But the damage was done in the opening exchanges and Lespierre was at its epicentre. Since arriving at College Meadow nearly 18 months ago, the flying winger has put together an impressive highlights reel of fast footwork and dazzling tries, but on this occasion the predator turned provider as he shredded the Blackheath defence three times in quick succession.
The game was just three minutes old when the OEs wing beat his opposite number with a searing break down the right before passing inside to scrum-half Ollie Claxton, another outstanding performer on the day, who was able to hold off a covering tackle to go over for the opening try.
Three minutes later, the winger collected Chris Surman’s cross-field kick out on the right and cut back inside, weaving his way deep into the visitors 22 before off-loading to prop Lewis Brown who barrelled his way over from close range.
The record College Meadow crowd erupted for the third time on eight minutes when another burst of acceleration down the right touchline enabled Lespierre to break a tackle and release the ubiquitous Claxton for his second try. Tom White kicked his second conversion to give OEs a barely conceivable 19-0 lead with less than 10 minutes on the clock.
Stunned by the initial onslaught, Blackheath gradually began to clear their heads with their hard working pack working the ball patiently into Elthamians territory. They forced the home side into conceding three penalties in quick succession which were kicked to the corner for the driven lineout. But on each occasion, unforced errors cost them dearly – a recurring theme throughout the afternoon - as OEs were able to clear the danger.
For the remainder of the half there was little to separate the two sides with OEs indebted to fly-half Tom White whose intelligent use of the boot not only relieved the pressure in his own half but prevented Blackheath from building any concerted momentum in attack. The fly-half completed an impressive first half performance with a 37th minute penalty to give OEs a 22-0 half-time lead.
The second half followed a similar pattern to the first with Blackheath securing plenty of possession, but other than a darting break from lively full-back Leo Fielding, they rapidly ran out of ideas in attack.
White extended the lead with his second penalty on 54 minutes before Lespierre took centre stage once again on the hour when he scored the try his performance so richly deserved and secured the bonus point in the process. This time Claxton was the instigator, his sniping break making initial in-roads into Blackheath territory before he combined with Surman to release the flying winger. With plenty to do still, Lespierre jinked in between two would-be tacklers before launching himself into the air for an acrobatic finish.
White’s touchline conversion took the home side out of sight. But to their credit it was Blackheath who finished the game strongly, camping in the OEs 22 for the final 10 minutes where a bruising, hard fought encounter briefly threatened to descend into farce.
After being forced into conceding a series of penalties, Elthamians were reduced to 14 men when Harry Ledger was shown a yellow card for a high tackle. Blackheath elected to go for the scrum and quickly got the shove on against the seven-man home pack, prompting referee Veryan Boscawen to dish out two more yellow cards to replacement prop John Fordham and hooker Jay Rudland-Thomas.
With OEs now down to 12 men and only two available front row players remaining, there was a lengthy delay as the match officials seemed unsure exactly how to proceed. Eventually, the game restarted with an uncontested scrum, the delay had run down the clock much to the delight of the home crowd and with OEs finally running out of defenders, Blackheath gained some small measure of consolation when lock Tom Stradwick forced his way over from close range.
Disappointed Blackheath Director of Rugby James Shanahan said afterwards: “Elthamians scored three quick tries and from then on, at 19-0 down, we were always chasing the game. I thought we created enough chances in the first half but took none, partly due to us but more to do with the Elthamian defence which was absolutely outstanding and even when they were 32-0 up they defended that try-line like their lives depended on it. That’s the thing that really annoyed me that they seemed to have more desire than us. But credit to Elthamians, they were by far the best team on the day and they thoroughly deserved the five points. We didn’t even deserve a score to be honest.”
Tries: Claxton (3, 8), L Brown (6), Lespierre (60)
Pen: White x 2 (36, 54)
Cons: White x 3 (7, 9, 61)
Tries: Stradwick (77)
Cons: Tarrant (78)
Old Elthamians: Surman , Lespierre , Moffat , Wilkins , A Brown , White (Carlisle 63 ), Claxton (Parker 60 ), L Brown (Fordham 63 ), Rudland-Thomas (Morris 53 ), Rogers, Preocanin , Kench , Messum , Barton (Ledger 60 ), King .
Blackheath: Fielding , Griffiths , Burcham (Chapman 54 ), Cooke , Lloyd, Tarrant, Davies, King (Hallam 61 ), Perks, Herriott (Scutt 61), Osazuwa, Stradwick , Nilsson (Huston-McCormack 51 ), Bate (Farmer 51 ), Baldwin.
Referee: Veryan Boscawen
Half-time: Old Elthamians 22 Blackheath 0
Yellow cards: Ledger (73), Fordham (75), Rudland-Thomas (76) (All Elthamians)
Star man: Dom Lespierre (Old Elthamians)