Preview to Blackheath (a) 10.09.1108/09/2011
Jersey make the trip to one of the world's oldest rugby clubs this weekend when they play Blackheath in their third outing of 2011/12 in National League One.
More of the history later - and it's impressive - but in the here and now the Islanders are about to face a side who will be desperate to register their first win of the current campaign in what is their first home game.
Successive away games were required by the team known to many devotees as, simply, 'Club' because of the early start to the season imposed by the authorities in a bid to squeeze a hefty 30 league games into one season and build in scope for bad weather. Blackheath's Rectory Field ground is used for cricket and consequently unavailable for use by 'Club' until this weekend.
With thanks to Blackheath's website and its squadron of writers, here's the story of the 'Club' season so far.
[Malcolm Thacker 'Left Hand Top Terrace' - August 26th] This season's Blackheath squad relies as usual on retaining quality existing players and keeping successful combinations together wherever possible. However, for the first time in a while Blackheath seem to have got most of what they wanted in transfers in the off-season, by strengthening the spine of the team. This includes more depth at full-back and goal-kicking from Adam Armstrong, an England Counties No 8 in Tom Stradwick from Henley and more experience at hooker, where Gavin O'Meara [formerly of Leinster] returns from Plymouth Albion [after a loan spell at 'Club' in 2009 while on the books of London Welsh].
Add in some useful acquisitions in the backs [coached by former Wasps' scrum half and England sevens supremo Mike Friday], including Australian centre Paddy Smith, Richard Bright (Launceston) and John Coleman (Plymouth Albion) on the wings and dual registrations from Saracens, including Club-grown England U18 back row Matt Hankin, and the squad looks strong on paper. But this season more than ever, they will need to gel quickly and deliver results early on, as there will be no easy ties in this campaign.
[Malcolm Thacker - September 2nd] Blackheath, meanwhile, never
quite applied their game plan sufficiently to overcome Rosslyn
Park, at a strangely subdued Priory Lane. The home pack looked more
dynamic in the loose than the visitors, whilst the Club forwards
were on top throughout in the tight phases and the line-out
generally worked well. The visitors scored the try of the match
however, after a typically barrelling break from Dave Allen
ultimately set up Richard Bright for a score on his debut.
Despite the result [a 26-20 defeat for 'Club'], this match was very close and could have gone either way, there were many positives for the Club faithful, not least Adam Armstrong's kicking, which kept Blackheath in the game and, with both range and accuracy, will force opponents to maintain their discipline in their own half, a vital weapon in a long winter campaign.
[Graham Cox - September 4th] The concession of a try well into added time thwarted Blackheath once again as the Club lost out to Ealing Trailfinders in their first ever league visit to Vallis Way on Saturday.
Coming from behind for a second time in the match, the visitors
mounted a huge spell of pressure on the hosts' goal-line before Ben
Ibrahim crossed with just two minutes remaining for what looked to
be a well-earned draw.
But in the dying moments Trailfinders' full-back Peter Hodgkinson, who played a part in all three of his side's tries, broke from defence and former Club centre Sam Wardingley scored to give Ealing a 26-21 victory.
"We've lost out in two games which could have gone either way which is deeply frustrating," commented [Performance Director] Yusuf Ibrahim.
"But we must pay credit to Ealing, they look a good all-round side and played with great gusto."
"For our part, I don't think we're playing badly, but we're far short of clicking into top gear," he continued.
"But we won't be looking to make wholesale changes. With hard work and patience the performances and results will come and I know the boys are really looking forward to being back at Rectory Field in front of what we're hoping will be a big crowd."
In spite of claims by Guy's Hospital to have been formed in the 1840s, Blackheath is agreed by many to be the oldest continuously-operating club in England, and the third oldest in the world after Dublin University and Edinburgh Academy.
Blackheath were one of the 20 founder members of the RFU from 1871 (and one of seven playing today - Richmond, Guy's, Harlequins, Civil Service, Wellington College and King's College are the others). In 1881 the club hosted the first ever international between England and Wales, and two years later began playing at their current HQ, Rectory Field.
Famous former players include Frederick Stokes, the first ever captain of England, Scotland's Mike Campbell-Lamerton, the renowned dual international CB Fry, Mick 'the Munch' Skinner and one of England's current world Cup party, scrum half Joe Simpson of Wasps.
Follow this weekend's game...
Those who can't make it to SE London this weekend needn't lose touch with what's happening at Rectory Field. Options for keeping tabs on JRFC include:
• Preview on BBC Radio Jersey's 'Sportscene' from 6- 7pm on Friday, and regular updates on Saturday afternoon
• Preview in Friday's JEP, and full match coverage on Monday
• Scoreflashes on @jerseyrfc Twitter and the 'Rolling Maul' rugby forum
• Match report on Channel 103 at 5.10pm on Saturday
• Highlights on Channel TV at 6.15pm on Monday, and online.