Blackheath won the South London bragging rights, 12-11, 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 tip 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.”

In a largely forgettable, error-strewn opening period in which neither side could establish any continuity or rhythm, Elthamians lead 3-0 at the interval courtesy of a Tom White penalty.

But the game sprung to life five minutes after the restart when slick hands down the narrow side allowed Blackheath centre Henry Staff to cross in the corner for a well-worked score.

They quickly extended their lead just six minutes later when after 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.

White converted a penalty midway through the half and then in a storming finale, Elthamians cut the deficit to just one point with four minutes remaining when winger George Perkins finished off a length of the field counter-attack to cross in the corner.

The home side desperately worked the ball through 20 phases in the closing moments but could find no way through superb Blackheath defence.

Elthamians head coach Sam Howard said: “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.”