By Graham Cox at Old Bath Road
A result which may have a significant impact on who gets promoted to the Championship, but perhaps more importantly for Blackheath, a league double over a side who have impressed everyone in their first-ever season in rugby’s third tier.
Rams were on a roll going into this match, eight wins from their previous nine outings lifting them into second place in National League One, three points behind leaders Richmond.
But Blackheath produced one of their best performances of the campaign to halt them in their tracks.
Club fly-half Mark Cooke had a sublime afternoon with the boot, slotting five out of five on a day when a vicious wind swept through the Thames Valley and across the Old Bath Road ground.
His final tally of 11 points, including the supplement to the four tries, three of them from the right touchline, and one penalty, may have been less than the difference between the sides, but it kept Blackheath with the advantage, apart from a brief moment midway through the second period.
This was an all-round team performance, and it began after a couple of minutes as the Club pack, including Nathan Morris making his debut at hooker, dismantled the opposition eight at the first scrum to win a penalty.
The kick to touch saw Neale Patrick take ball at the front of the lineout, and as Blackheath probed, and Cooke mopped up loose ball to keep play alive, a gap opened up for James Catt to score.
Rams responded quickly with their own kick to touch, full-back Kieran Leicester collecting the ball on the bounce as it was played infield, and running in from 30 metres, but a high tackle on Stef Liebenberg enabled Cooke to move Blackheath into a 10-5 lead.
Showing the enterprise that has served them well, Rams spurned a potential three points to search for bigger reward, but the Club’s defence, which made 200 tackles during the course of the match, double that of the hosts, held firm and limited the Berkshire side to a 34th-minute penalty from fly-half, and recent Oxford Blue, Tom Humberstone.
Another strong scrum allowed Cooke to find Leo Fielding, the full-back breaking the line to send Jake Lloyd across in the right corner, giving Blackheath a comfortable 17-8 half-time lead.
The third quarter belonged to Rams. While Blackheath allowed their attacks to break down, the hosts’ game came together, and right-wing Jak Rossiter carved open the Club’s defence with a couple of devastating diagonal runs for two unconverted tries to put his side into the slenderest of leads.
It was only fleeting though. Following a quick tap-penalty in front of the uprights from Liebenberg, Nick Foster swapped wings to take Fielding’s pass and score out wide on the right.
With the Club back-row – in particular the excellent Tom Burns – continuing to make inroads – the service was there for Fielding again to provide the scoring pass, this time for Lloyd to add his second try on 64 minutes.
With a reinvigorated defence and dominant scrum, Blackheath held steady for the remainder of the game.
Club host Plymouth Albion at Well Hall on Saturday (3 pm).
Wimbledon’s hopes of promotion from London & SE Premier took a hit as they lost 12-3 at leaders Rochford Hundred on Saturday.
The strong breeze in Essex made catching the ball very difficult in an attritional contest.
Rochford scored in the corner through hooker Adam Ferrier after nine minutes but the conversion attempt by Cameron Greenhall was missed.
A sustained attacked by Wimbledon’s forwards was held-up over the line. This was the first of two occasions for this to happen. As the half closed a yellow card was awarded against Rochford and despite giving sustained pressure Wimbledon were unable to take advantage, Rochford’s defence was very strong and organised. The half ended with Wimbledon scoreless and Rochford less than one score ahead at 5 – 0.
Wimbledon now were playing with the wind favouring Rochford more although outside half Steve Boatman was successful with a penalty on 45 minutes for a Rochford offside. Rochford’s Greenhall took advantage with long kicks to the right hand corner, periods of play followed with both sides in possession but without scores, it wasn’t until 62 minutes that another long kick gave Rochford the chance of their second try by no. 8 Henry Hudson, and this time Greenhill’s conversion was kept low but just cleared the crossbar. The gap of 12 – 3 looked too much to close for Wimbledon even with time to play and so it proved at the end.
Next week the league takes a rest and Wimbledon will be away at Guildford on the 15th February with a 2.30pm kick-off.