OEs see red in festive thriller
A first half red card cost Elthamians dear at a packed College Meadow on Saturday as the much anticipated derby showdown with Blackheath ended in narrow defeat.
Old Elthamians 11 Blackheath 12
Blackheath won the South London bragging rights in the top of the table clash at College Meadow after Elthamians were forced to play for more than half the game with 14 men following the first half dismissal of Cameron Holenstein.
The pivotal moment in this enthralling derby contest came on 33 minutes when the OEs prop was shown a red card by referee Alexander Thomas for a dangerous tackle on Blackheath hooker Mike Perks.
From then on in a game dominated by two outstanding defences, the home side were always playing catch-up.
“Unfortunately the referee had no option,” Blackheath Director of Rugby James Shanahan said of the dismissal. “I felt a bit sorry for the guy but it was like a WWE throw.
“Obviously, I’m delighted to get the win but firstly, huge credit to Elthamians for the way they played with only 14 men for 50 minutes of the game and stayed in it the way they did. But I thought the resilience and character our boys showed was outstanding.
“There were two really good teams out there today with two outstanding defences. Both sides worked so hard for each other and you saw that in the last two passages of play. The boys had to defend for five minutes and they are dead on their feet. It wasn’t an exceptional attacking game but I think that’s because there were two teams out there so evenly matched that they weren’t going to break each other down.”
If the game failed to live up to its billing in an attacking sense, and indeed for the opening 40 minutes it was a bruising, frenetic dogfight as the two sides battered away at one another searching for a glimmer of daylight in two scrooge-like defensive lines, it was impossible to take your eyes off it.
It was compelling and it was nerve-racking. It was also, at times, wincingly hard-hitting as the players, in front of a record home crowd, kept up an astonishing level of intensity and ferocity throughout with shuddering hits on the gain line and unrelenting competition at the breakdown.
In the three previous meetings between the two sides, the scrum has been an area that has caused Elthamians problems and here again it was an unholy mess early on from a home perspective. OEs either conceded a free kick or were penalised at the first four scrums of the game even before Holenstein’s red card.
Without a stable platform early on, it set the tone for a largely forgettable, fractured opening period. Elthamians lead 3-0 at the interval courtesy of a Tom White penalty with neither side able to establish any continuity or rhythm with the ball in hand.
But the game sprung to life five minutes after the restart. As the industrious Blackheath pack began to exert pressure in home territory, slick hands down the narrow side and a sharp break from winger Craig Dowsett allowed centre Henry Staff to cross in the corner for a well-worked score.
They quickly extended their lead just six minutes later when after more heavy pressure from the Blackheath pack, White uncharacteristically dropped a pass behind his own try-line and visitors skipper Marcus Burcham was quick to dive on the loose ball, Joe Tarrant converting.
At this stage, the Blackheath pack looked to have taken a grip on proceedings. Using their extra man advantage to good effect, they kept play tight, protected the ball well and mauled deep into Elthamians territory.
Having conceded two tries in the space of six minutes at the start of the half, however, the home side soaked up the pressure, dusted themselves down and began to claw their way back into the game.
White converted a penalty midway through the half to begin the fight back as momentum began to swing the way of the home side. With just four minutes remaining, Elthamians finally breached the wall of black and red shirts to set up a storming finale. White’s chip over the defence was collected by the ever alert Golledge who raced to the edge of visitors’ 22 before being brought down. But the ball was recycled quickly for White to send a long pass out to the wing where George Perkins crossed in the corner for his first Elthamians try.
It cut the lead to just one point and set up a nerve-racking final few moments as OEs secured possession again and desperately worked the ball through phase after phase. But the Blackheath defence, outstanding all afternoon, kept their discipline and their nerve to shut down OEs on the halfway line.
Elthamians head coach Sam Howard said afterwards: “We gave away nine penalties at scrum time and played more than half the game with 14 men and at this level you can’t play against a team as good as Blackheath with 14 men and expect to win.
“I think if we’d have had 15 men on the pitch we’d have won the game as we had to chase it a little bit after the dismissal, but it was a red card, no question. I don’t think there was any malice in it, it was a rush of blood to the head and he got his timing wrong. And after that we couldn’t really get any clean ball and were feeding off broken play.”
Tries: Perkins 73
Pens: White 20 65
Tries: Staff 45 Burcham 60
Cons: Tarrant 61
Old Elthamians: Dockery (Brown 40 ), Lespierre , Golledge, K Moffat, A Brown (Perkins 8), White, Claxton (Morgan 61); Holenstein, Morris (Rudland-Thomas 63), Rogers, Hosking (Messum 73), Preocanin, Messum (North 35), Ledger, Kovacic (Thomas 61).
Red Card - Cameron Holenstein 33
Blackheath: Tarrant (Clements-Hill 67), Lloyd, Staff, Burcham, Dowsett, Cooke, Liebenberg (Daly 63); Palmer, Perks (Fry 40), Herriott, Patrick, Peters, Stradwick, Owen, Nilsson (Catt 18 (Nilsson 40). Replacements (not used):, Ackuaku.
Yellow card: James Catt 20
Referee: Alexander Thomas
Half-time: OId Elthamians 3 Blackheath 0