Blackheath’s rollercoaster season reaches its climax this weekend.
Tomorrow a Club XV make the short trip to Footscray RFC in defence of their Kent Cup title, in the Final of this year’s competition against London Two South Champions Gravesend.
But the undoubted highlight will be this afternoon when, in the final round of matches, hordes of South Yorkshiremen are expected to descend on Rectory Field as Blackheath play host to National League One leaders Doncaster Knights.
Relegated a year ago, the Knights vowed an immediate return to domestic rugby union’s second tier and, sure enough, Doncaster have led the table since they defeated the Club 47-17 at Castle Park on the opening day of the campaign in September. Now, with twenty-three further wins under their belts, only Blackheath stand in the way of them achieving their goal and denying the opportunity for an in-form Rosslyn Park to sneak up on the rails and snatch the one promotion berth.
Nevertheless, despite remaining unbeaten at the their home fortress, Doncaster have been far from all-conquering elsewhere with five losses on the road. Indeed, Blackheath’s form in their last ten outings almost matches that of their visitors (41 league points against Doncaster’s 42) and the Club have already caused their fair share of upsets.
Sitting second from bottom of the table in mid-January, their resurgence began with an emphatic 38-10 victory over Esher, effectively ending the Surrey club’s title aspirations, before a week later defeating Rosslyn Park 15-12 at the Rock, the Roehampton side’s only home-reversal of the season and a result without which Blackheath’s south London rivals would currently sit in pole position.
And those Doncaster supporters with long memories may recall the last and only time they travelled down the M1 to play Blackheath almost exactly nine years ago when, in one their best performances of recent times, the club smashed the Knights 30-0.
Simon Legg who played at loose-head prop that day remembers it well.
‘It was a terrific game. There were a handful of great Blackheath players, including Mike Friday and Shane Roiser, making their last Rectory Field appearances and they put in legendary performances.’
‘On that occasion Doncaster had already secured promotion and had come down in celebratory mood, but we spoiled their party then and we’re aiming to do it again. On paper our current form matches theirs, but we’ll have a majority of the crowd behind us and all the pressure will be on them.’
It’s a scenario that Blackheath’s Director of Rugby could only dream of when he made the long journey back with his side from a humiliating 31-10 defeat at Tynedale a mere three months ago. To many, demotion looked a certainty, but eight wins and a draw have moved the Club into the top half of the table and transformed Legg’s first season in charge.
‘It was a low point but I never thought we’d be relegated,’ he continued.
‘We had to dig deep. Skipper Tom Bason’s return from injury was inspirational and Jack Walsh’s selection for the elite England Sevens squad transformed the scrum-half’s season, but the entire squad, including those on the fringes, deserve massive credit.’
‘I’m very happy with where we are. We can throw everything at Doncaster, and with the Kent Cup tomorrow as well, the campaign can finish on a high.’
Three survivors of the 30-0 drubbing of Doncaster in 2005, Bason, Des Brett and Dave Allen, will be part of the Club pack today while Richard Windsor will make his 100th appearance in a Blackheath jersey.
The centre and vice-captain joins Walsh, Richard Pike and James Catt who have also reached their respective centuries in recent weeks, as Legg calls on plenty of experience for the big challenge which is a 3.00 pm kick-of at Rectory Field.