Well, at least we're not Sunderland...
By Gerry Egan
Bewildered at Well Hall
A much changed Sidcup “4thXV” headed to the bouncy caged wilderness of Blackheath’s Well Hall all weather pitch to take on the host’s 4th team, brigands, bloopers or something else alliterative. Maybe it is the onset of the Rugby World Cup next season or maybe it is the good work put in by several aging club men to revamp Sidcup’s reputation as a good club to play for, but this week’s side included three former youth players returning to play for their former club (Andy “Derm” McDermott, Glenn Ennals and Davy Walsh) and five of last season’s Academy returning from studies/rehab. Alongside these fine fellows were a number of regulars from last season’s 3rd XV squad and newcomer Charlie Mann making his debut in Sidcup colours.
Blackheath kicked off and immediately prop Ennals demonstrated good hands to take the catch and an uncanny turn of pace to charge 20 metres up field, much to the shock of his team mates who were some metres behind when he was eventually brought to ground in the Blackheath half. Blackheath reacted quicker at the breakdown and worked their way back up the pitch with some fine handling and support play until eventually they were awarded a 5-metre scrum. A vastly experienced front row (with Skipper James Shaw stepping in a tight head) showed that age is no handicap and duly scored a converted try.
The Blackheath side were well drilled and organised with some vastly experienced players pulling the strings whereas Sidcup unsurprisingly had the look of a barbarian team pulled together with individual skills and not enough contingency or cohesion. However, after the initial shock of the first few minutes the visitors were putting together some fine passages of play and the home side were conceding penalties aplenty at the breakdown. The aerobatic skills of Sam Squires and Harry Wilford were working well in the lineout and McDermott was revelling in the loose, charging up field into the heart of the Blackheath defence. Davy Walsh was running good lines in the midfield and even caught the ball occasionally.
Some twenty minutes into the first half and aging fly half Paul Edwards darts blind in his own half, evading the first up tackles but eventually being felled in a powerful tackle, causing the horde of away supporters to emote a communal ouch. Coach Dan Mizen assures everyone that “Goofer” just collapsed as he had run of energy after 10 yards. Soon after, the home side’s hooker has to leave the field due to injury, possibly losing his false teeth and a less experienced butthankfully non front row replacement is found. The scrums are now temporarily non-competitive, much to relief of the aerobically challenged front rows and the Blackheath scrumhalf is volunteered by his teammates to throw in at the lineout. The look of “you-are-having-a-laugh”, surely one of you fat boys can do this” on his face was priceless. Indeed, the merriment continued as the following few home lineouts went a tad wayward.
With the home side temporarily disrupted by the loss of their hooker, Sidcup are now in the ascendancy and some great forward work brings the visitors up to the Blackheath 5 metre line. Blackheath are conceding more penalties and a quick tap and charge from 10 metres out allow scrum half Tom Harrison the novel opportunity to run laterally across the pitch before putting in a wild flail of the boot. The ball skips towards the goal line, the bounce of the all-weather pitch confusing all except the surprisingly alert Charlie Ashby who charges over to score. Fly Edwards hobbles across the pitch to convert. 7-all to the good guys!
Blackheath are now back to full strength and hurling everything that they have at Sidcup. The ball is moved right into the midfield, sucking in the visitor’s defence and then flung right for a certain try, with the distance seemingly too great for the scrambling Sidcup defence to cover. But lo, Sidcup’s answer the “The Flash” (Starts Tuesday 28th October, 8pm on Sky 1*) Rob Watson snuffs out the three man overlap singlehandedly. We are now some thirty minutes into the game and Fly Half Edwards’ knee (and lungs) can go on no longer. Fullback and I’ll-play-two-games-in-a-day star Charlie May slots into fly half, Ashby moves to FB from wing and lineout specialist Jack Foster joins the fray on the wing. The remodelling takes a while to gel and Blackheath again work through the middle to create space out left, but this time Watson and Ashby combine to keep numerous attackers at bay.
Some after, second row Jamie Cortes puts in a fearsome tackle only to come a cropper and after some concerning moments on the deck is forced to leave the field due to injury. The word “stinger” is now added to his rugby vocabulary the Spanish translation of which he has yet to share with us. With the Sidcup defence holding strong, Blackheath try the chip over the top but the ball is safely grounded by scrum half Tom Harrison. The referee awards a 5 metre scrum to the attacking side which seems a tad incorrect and Blackheath go on to score, The try is duly converted. 14 – 7 to the home side.
From the restart, Sidcup put in an excellent chase and pressure the home side into various mistakes. Sidcup set up a sequence of good rucks and quick drives but are too frantic to execute the killer punch and Blackheath are relieved to be rewarded a 5 metre scrum put in. The ball is cleared to touch, but Sidcup win the ensuing lineout and set off on a great drive to within 5 metres of the home side’s line before winning a penalty. Harrison takes a quick tap, confusing himself and all around him in the process, spins around a few times causing further confusion to both sides before off-loading to prop Dave “Dangerous” Campbell who dives over to score (Mr Mizen states on Twitter/Facebook that there side steps, etc but alas my vision from such a distance is not that good). With the injured Edwards on the side line cadging cigarettes left, right and centre, Charlie May has a valiant attempt at the conversion but is adjudged to have missed. Half time arrives and the score is 14 – 12 to the hosts.
The game is fairly evenly matched in the first half; the experience of the Blackheath front row is causing Sidcup problems at the scrum but the Sidcup lineout has been functioning well. The loss of Cortes has broken the rhythm of the lineout and having scored and shocked everyone in the first half, Campbell is withdrawn and the more experienced Dodd is brought into the front row. Sidcup have the younger and more mobile pack and despite the enforced changes are optimistic of strong second half.
Blackheath come out of the blocks quicker and Sidcup are pinned near their own line for the opening exchanges. Blackheath try a chip and chase over the Sidcup defence but again the visitors back three are in place to respond and the visitors’ are awarded a 22” drop out. Alas, the ball skews off the boot and is adjudged not to have crossed the line. Blackheath are back in possession and move the ball wide, then close and wide again before scoring an unconverted try. 19 – 12 to the home Sidcup.
The set piece is becoming more and more of an issue as Sidcup fatigue sets in and prop Ennals is forced to withdraw with a shoulder injury (from carrying the whole team allegedly) and Campbell returns to the pitch. Sidcup are soon back under the cosh after the kick off and despite back row Wilford making some great 40 yard charges, there are not enough numbers there in support to provide contingency and the visitors are soon back defending in their 22”. Blackheath work their way back up the pitch and another scrum on the 22” sees the Sidcup pack splintered and a penalty conceded 5 metres out. The resultant quick tap is moved efficiently catching the defence wrong footed and the visitors are in again. Blackheath are looking the better drilled side and working well as a unit; Sidcup are showing some great individual effort but lack the same organisation.
Attack is often the best form of defence and Sidcup are still running with the ball whenever in possession. Sidcup are in the home side’s 22 and battering away at the line and are unlikely not to come away with a score or even. Psychologically, not scoring in this period of excellent pressure and possession proves costly. Blackheath clear their lines and look to run the ball from their own 10 metre line; as the ball moves wide right there seems to be a certain try in the offing until second-row come winger Jack “Fozy” Foster puts in a classic blitz tackle and is first on his feet to win the ball back for the visitors. Blackheath again return to the attack and Sidcup are saved by a great interception from fly half Charlie May, only for May’s offload to also be intercepted and the home side are back on the attack. With the Sidcup side tied up on defence in the midfield, the ball is moved left and Blackheath are through. Once again, winger Watson is on hand to not only flatten the attacker in the tackle, but get to his feet in an instant and crash tackle the support player forcing him to knock on. Alas, from the 5 metre scrum Sidcup are caught off guard and Blackheath steal and score. Watson takes his hard work coming to nothing stoically. The score is a now a harsh 31 – 12 to the home side. The last 5 minutes are played out and Blackheath find time to score and convert another try making the final tally 38 – 12 to the home side.
There were a lot of positives to be taken from this game despite the final result. The performances of returning McDermott, Ennals and Walsh bodes well for the future; Wilford’s powerful running and lineout work in the first half alongside fellow jumper Sam Squires should provide a rich source of possession in the future; Lush was everywhere in the loose; May deputised well at fly half and Foster, Ashby, Watson and Mann demonstrated some great defensive pedigree and Head was tireless in his efforts to lead by example and inspire his troops. According to the maxim, “we learn more through our defeats than we do through our victories”. On a final note, a big thank you to James Shaw and the guys at Blackheath: A good game played in the right spirit and enjoyable despite the result.
N.B. it takes about 2 hours to write a match report and is best done with the TV on the background, hence having heard the "The Flash" advert a million times it seemed like a good pop culture reference.