Blackheath 37 Rosslyn Park 21

Dream match turned nightmare for Park at the away National 1 game

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What had looked a comfortable prospect for Rosslyn Park, 21 – 8 ahead on 50 minutes with their scrum seemingly in charge of affairs, rapidly turned into a nightmare as the home side rattled up 29 unanswered points in the final half hour. Perhaps the Herculean efforts made against Ealing the previous Saturday were still in the legs of the Park players. This defeat sees them drop to third place, behind Coventry.

Blackheath caught Park cold almost from kick-off, the visitors straying offside before they had got much of a hand on the ball. Winger Ryan Squires kicked the early penalty.

Park immediately asserted themselves and powerful runs from centre Kiba Richards and winger Joe Ajuwa tested the home defence before Richards broke two tackles to score near the posts, full-back Louis Grimoldby added the conversion for a 7-3 lead on 9 minutes.

Park had their tails up and a penetrating run from flanker Harry Broadbent was stopped only at the cost of a penalty, with which Grimoldby fired his side ahead by 10-3 on 15 minutes.

If Park were enjoying slightly the upper hand, Blackheath were by no means taking a back seat and came right back into it when some excellent work by full back Nick Canty sent Squires in for a try on the 20 minute mark.

It was Park who continued to upper hand, their forward power providing a good platform, but Blackheath’s defence held solid. It was a major blow, though, when the constantly dangerous Richards had to leave the field with what looked like a shoulder injury.

Park continued to huff and puff but the Blackheath house refused to blow down. With half time approaching, Park won a penalty which Grimoldby hoisted to the corner. This time the Park pack really did make its presence felt and the home side could do nothing as skipper Hugo Ellis touched down for a typical number 8 try. Grimoldby added the extras for 15-8 at the interval.

At the start of the second period it looked like more of the same. Early on, Blackheath were forced to drop a scrum and Grimoldby stepped up to crack over the penalty for 18-8.

Twice more Blackheath were penalised at the scrum as the Park forwards continued to dominate. They drove to the line, coming within a cat’s whisker of scoring before working the ball back to try again. Fly half Scott Sneddon received the ball in space and, weighing up his options, launched a drop goal to extend the lead to 21-8 on 50 minutes.

Almost from the restart Park kicked towards the corner to launch another raid, but it came to nothing. Park were caught flat footed when right winger Geoff Griffith seized the ball and broke up the left, passing inside to fly half Alex Gallagher, who scored a good opportunist team try. Squires converted to narrow the scores to 15-21.

Suddenly Blackheath were fired up. Returning to the attack, they were stopped but at the cost of a sin bin for flanker Mike McFarlane on 64 minutes, which was probably crucial. Playing with tired legs was one thing, playing with only fourteen pairs of them was another. Blackheath exploited their advantage to the full.

Four minutes later from a line-out Blackheath executed a move, clearly from the training pitch, which created a gap in the Park defence for replacement Harry Fry to slide through and score. Squires missed a difficult conversion but his team were now rampant.

Back they came, and Ollie Lyons broke off the back of the scrum to set up Gallagher for his second try, beating some distinctly tired looking tackles to score. Squires converted for a home lead of 27-21.

With McFarlane due to return, Blackheath forced a penalty and Squires made no mistake. With the score at 30-21 Park were now out of losing bonus point territory.

The visitors tried desperately to get back, but Blackheath were in cruise control. With them passing the ball around in no great hurry, Broadbent launched a torpedo of a tackle, to which he was committed as the ball left his target’s hand. But it looked bad, and the only question was which colour card he would receive (it was yellow).

Reduced again to fourteen in the dying moments the match was beyond saving. Blackheath rubbed salt in the wound from a 5-metre scrum in the last minute, surging forward for the referee to go under the posts to award the penalty try. Squires added the conversion for 37-21.

Alex Codling, the day after, said: “The Ealing game took a massive amount out of the group both emotionally and physically. This was evident yesterday. Despite not being at our best, after 60 minutes we were in control of the game 21-8 but there was just nothing left in the tank. The boys deserve the rest after putting in a huge effort over the past 12 months and there have been many great memories and performances for the boys to be extremely proud of. A very Merry Christmas to all of our supporters who have played a big part in a successful 2014”

Blackheath well deserved their win on the strength of a superb final half hour. Whether they would have been able to muster that against a Park side not suffering from a supreme effort the previous Saturday is something we shall never know, and the league table does not care.

Park: Grimoldby; Vincent, Broughton, Richards, Ajuwa; Sneddon; Carter; McKenzie, Bellamy, Liffchak; Thomas, Bowley; Shires, Broadbent, Ellis
Subs: Wright, Palframan, McFarlane, Gash, Mama.

Park scorers: Richards (T), Ellis (T), Grimoldby (2P, C), Sneddon (DG)

December 23, 2014