Derby disappointment as OEs scrum undone
A powerful scrummaging performance from the Blackheath pack condemned Elthamians to defeat in a pulsating South London derby at Well Hall.
Blackheath 28 Old Elthamians 23
For much of the season, the Elthamians scrum has laid the platform for some of their best work in National One. In an incident-packed South London derby last Saturday, it was to prove their undoing.
Blackheath gained some measure of revenge for their 32-7 defeat in the first meeting between the two sides before Christmas with a deserved victory that had a powerful scrummaging performance at its epicentre.
With little to separate the two sides throughout a predictably thunderous and hard-fought encounter, it was the outstanding Club front row of Danny Herriott, Matt Miles and Hayden King who were to have the biggest influence on the final outcome. They laid the foundations for one of Blackheath’s three first half tries, won three second half penalties and caused no end of problems for the visitors at scrum-time.
Indeed, every time Elthamians looked to have built some much needed continuity or threatened to take a stranglehold on this game, particularly in the second half, their scrum either splintered or was put under heavy pressure and penalised by referee James Clarke.
The Old Boys can have no complaints about the result, but they will look back at two pivotal moments, one self-inflicted, which swung momentum firmly the way of the home side.
The first came in the closing moments of the first half. With OEs only 12-8 down and under pressure in their own 22, they tried to play their way out of trouble instead of putting boot to ball. It failed miserably. Instead they were penalised at two successive scrums, Blackheath unsurprisingly elected to scrummage again and promptly got the shunt on. The ball was moved wide and after a series of drives were held up short, home No.8 Tom Stradwick forced his way over from close range. A four point deficit had suddenly become 11 points at the interval.
The second turning point came midway through the second period. Having coming roaring out of the blocks after the break with two tries in quick succession to cut the home lead to just one point, OEs were in the ascendancy and enjoying their best period of the game by a distance. But a lengthy delay for an injury to the referee who was accidentally wiped out at a ruck, brought that momentum to a shuddering halt.
When the action resumed with a scrum, OEs were immediately penalised and the impeccable Joe Tarrant duly slotted the three points. From then on, with the wind taken out of their sails, the visitors were never quite the same attacking force and it was Blackheath who seized the initiative and ultimately the victory.
Elthamians had made a fast start to this eagerly anticipated second ever meeting between the two rivals and took an early 3-0 lead with a Joe Carlisle penalty, ironically given what was to follow, after Blackheath had been penalised for collapsing the scrum.
But after weathering the early OEs onslaught, the home side got into their stride and were rewarded with the first try of the game on 15 minutes. Scrum-half Jack Walsh made a great break off the back of a lineout and when he was stopped short the ball was recycled quickly for winger Leo Fielding to race over.
More good work from the backs and a penetrating run from full-back Geoff Griffiths set up Stradwick for the first of his two tries on 27 minutes and leading 12-3 after half an hour, Blackheath were in command and growing increasingly in confidence.
But Elthamians fought back and a strong run from Renford Bennett down the left flank took play into the Blackheath 22 and earned a penalty which Carlisle kicked to the corner. The Blackheath defence dealt comfortably with the attempted catch and drive, instead OEs shipped the ball wide where Max Wilkins did exceptionally well to spin out of two tackles and release captain Hamish Barton for the try.
Stradwick’s second try on the stroke of half-time gave the home side a 19-8 interval lead and at the halfway point they were good value for their lead.
However, Elthamians have made a habit this season of coming out of the dressing room at half-time a side transformed, and after Blackheath lost scrum-half Jack Walsh to a yellow card for deliberately impeding counterpart Ollie Claxton shortly after the restart, they stunned the home side with two tries inside the first 10 minutes of the half.
From a lineout in the Blackheath 22, Claxton darted his way over from close range on 46 minutes for his fourth try in the last three games. Just four minutes later, Dom Lespierre, who had previously been well marshalled by the Blackheath defence, was given his first sniff of a scoring chance after being released by a clever Wilkins off-load, and he was quick to capitalise, darting over in the right hand corner.
A one point game and all to play for. But then came the delay for the injury to the referee and Tarrant’s ensuing penalty. With the home side now holding a four-point lead, Tarrant had the chance to add a second penalty just three minutes later but pushed the kick wide. However, he was to make no mistake when Elthamians were penalised a third time for another offence at the scrum in an almost identical position to the two previous penalties midway inside the visitors’ half.
Tarrant added a third penalty a minute from time after OEs were penalised yet again in the scrum, this time on the edge of their own 22, and although the visitors came storming back from the restart when Claxton’s sniping break released Lespierre for his second try of an end-to-end encounter, it was too little too late.
Tries: Fielding (13), Stradwick (26, 39)
Pens: Tarrant (64, 71, 79)
Con: Tarrant (14, 40)
Tries: Barton (33), Claxton (46), Lespierre x 2 (50, 80)
Pens: Carlisle (10)
Old Elthamians: Golledge, Lespierre, Moffat, Wilkins, Bennett, Carlisle, Claxton, Brown, Morris, Fordham, Preocanin, Self, Messum, Barton, King. Replacements: Roofe, Rudland-Thomas, Ledger, Parker, White
Half-time: Blackheath 19 OEs 8