Richmond 31 Blackheath 31
Probably the right and proper outcome. The first-ever game between these two clubs, played a stone’s throw away on Richmond Green on 2nd January 1864, ended nil-nil, and now 150 years later this match, which celebrated the anniversary of that significant event, concluded with honours even.
Certainly a majority of the crowd at The Athletic Ground on this lovely spring afternoon were delighted enough when, in the final play, Richmond blind-side Harison Edwards broke through the Blackheath defensive line, stretched by heavy bombardment, and under the uprights to give Rob Kirby an easy conversion to level the scores.
Blackheath though will be disappointed. They led for a majority of the contest, but will be left to rue the missed opportunities that would have let them stretch away. As it was, they held a 14-point lead on two occasions, once in each period, but each time the Richmond forwards picked and drove their way back, eventually finding the holes to cancel out the Club’s advantage.
In fact, the only time the hosts led was in the early minutes, when a long passage of play from the kick-off ended with Kirby slotting a penalty for off-side, but in the ninth minute Simon Whatling equalised after Richard Windsor broke up-field, with Rhys Crane in support.
Once again Blackheath’s line-out performed superbly, with Gavin O’Meara’s throwing as accurate as ever, and twice Tom Bason stealing opposition ball, and with the visitors winning the battle at the breakdown, the Club began to dominate territory.
On 20 minutes, Jack Walsh looked to have scored, only for the ball to be adjudged lost forward, but soon after the Club scrum-half made the decisive break off a scrum, before feeding Peter Homan to break tackles and race over for the opening try.
Homan, who along with opposite wing Crane, was making his Club debut, was involved again soon after as, with Blackheath keeping the pressure, the ball went through numerous phases before Dave Allen twisted his way over for the second try. But as if woken from their slumber the Richmond pack now rumbled forward and immediately responded by working hooker Jason Phipps across, pegging the visitors’ lead to 17-10 at the interval.
The two-score lead was quickly re-established at the start of the second period as Windsor broke across the opposition twenty-two, Allen coming up in support to score his 18th try of the season, but again the hosts made an immediate reply, this time emphatic enough to wipe away the advantage.
With Kirby finding some superb kicks to touch from full-back, first loose-head Jeremy Cunnew peeled away from a drive off a line-out. And then in the 53rd minute, inside-centre Matt Keville found a gap to score after more heavy pressure had drained defensive numbers, Kirby, like Whatling, adding all the conversions to level the score at 24-24.
Edwards would later be his side’s hero, but just for a moment, he turned villain as a clumsy late challenge sent the flanker to the sin-bin, and with the extra number Blackheath again stole the initiative. In the 64th minute, great work from Allen at the base of the set-scrum set up another move which, after recovery from Windsor out wide, saw Matthew Shields (on at tight-head as Blackheath’s third debutant of the afternoon) barge over for another converted score.
Had Allen managed to control the final pass soon after following some more fine build up play Blackheath would have been out of sight, but now it was Richmond who turned up the gas once more.
Jesse Liston managed to clear some of the danger with an excellent intercept behind an attacking scrum, and there was more relief when the ball was held up as Richmond piled over the goal-line, but with referee Shane Lewis playing advantage deep in added time the Black and Red line snapped one final time, and Edwards and Kirby completed the comeback.
Blackheath have a week off next Saturday but return to action the following week when Henley visit Rectory Field. Kick-off on 22nd March is 3.00 pm.
Tries: Phipps, Cunnew, Keville, Edwards
Conv: Kirby 4
Tries: Homan, Allen 2, Shields
Conv: Whatling 4