Preview to Blackheath (H) 17.12.11


Dave Allen, mulled wine, and Mick the Munch meets Mick the Fish

Welcome to this week's account of how our opponents got on against Ealing last weekend, formerly known as the JRFC preview.

This obsession with Ealing isn't healthy, even if some of their top brass did develop a soft spot for our former Club Manager during last season's visit. But as the old saying goes: "What goes on tour, travels by helicopter..." or something like that.

But it's hard to avoid Ealing, not just because they still lead the league, and are likely to stay that way over Christmas, but because the fixture list is giving teams an unenviable double-ticket of Ealing-then-Jersey at the moment. It will be interesting to see what the computer throws up (too much mulled wine?) for Jersey's next opponents - Ealing - who if my calculations are correct must be playing with themselves this weekend?

Anyway, Blackheath, who travel to Jersey tomorrow for the last league game of 2011, gave a damn fine account of themselves at Rectory Field last weekend against the Trailfinders. It ended 27-27, and an alleged remark by a dispirited home forward that "we could have won that if we'd been able to tackle."

Blackheath took an early lead through prodigious try-scoring flanker Dave Allen, but two tries helped the visitors to a 15-10 lead at the break. Black heath dominated the third quarter, with tries by Peter Squires and Sam Windsor opening a 24-15 lead, but Ealing were not to be denied and former Blackheath man Sam Wardingley scored two tries to seal the draw as well as a bonus point for his team.

Blackheath's disappointment and a desire for revenge after suffering their only home defeat of the season to Jersey in September, should make for a fascinating encounter with a Jersey team looking to finish off an impressive year, containing only three defeats in 34 competitive fixtures thus far, by stretching the current winning streak to 11 games.

Michael Fish writes...
The weather has been much discussed this week. After a record low in rainfall for November, the overhead tap has been running throughout December in Jersey, or so it seems, and a heavy pitch is inevitable. However there is great optimism the surface will be very much playable, with the prolonged rain of recent days forecast to be replaced by showers for the 24 hours leading to kick-off. Flying conditions could be a little bumpy, and it remains to be seen whether Ealing's 'in-and-out-the-same-day' approach is as successful for this weekend's visitors.

News from the Jersey corner
After a situation of 'positive equity' over injuries in recent weeks, with more players returning to the fold than missing due to fresh injury, the Islanders had bad news about potentially long-term absences for tight-head prop Jon Brennan and captain/ 2nd row Paul Rodgers. This is balanced by the successful returns of hooker Dave Felton and loose-head Dai Maddocks, while Graham Bell's ribs have recovered sufficiently to bring him into contention.

Steve O'Brien's calf injury rules him out, and Jersey will hope stand-in captain Jim Brownrigg passes a late fitness test. Meanwhile in the backs, Chris Levesley may have to wait until 2012 for his next taste of National League rugby, while Mike Le Bourgeois may return to the fly-half slot with Ross Broadfoot starting on the bench.

Jersey's winning run has contained all types of victories - low-scoring slogs against Blaydon and Stourbridge, muddy forward-based dominance over Cov and try-fests against Cambridge and the Bees. This weekend looks like a muddy affair, but if the result has the letter 'W' alongside it then few in the home camp will mind how it's achieved.

Any Previous?
The game at Rectory Field on September 10th saw Jersey rocked at the start with 'Club' (as Blackheath are universally known among their members) scoring two tries through forwards Dave Allen and Neil Dewale.

Jersey pulled it back to 16-13 by half-time thanks to Glenn Bryce's try and Ross Broadfoot's boot, and then went ahead 27-16 thanks to tries by James Copsey and Nicky Griffiths, before the hosts rallied with a late try by scrum-half Ben Ibrahim that secured a bonus point, but nothing more.

Club's class of 2011/12
Blackheath started the season with narrow losses to Rosslyn Park (20-26) and Ealing (21-26), the latter game was, like last weekend's re-match, one Club felt they should have got more from, certainly the draw that appeared the likely outcome until Sam Wardingley - him again - crossed for the killer score at the end.

But after the home defeat by Jersey, there was a rally of five straight wins that was only broken by a Cambridge side firing on all cylinders at the end of October.

November saw home wins against Tynedale and Cov and a pair of away defeats at Macc and Fylde, the latter game a close-fought encounter that ended 28-22 to the Lancastrians. December started with a straightforward win over the Bees before last Saturday's draw with Ealing.

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 (129 points thus far this season), an England Counties No 8 [also at home at No 6] 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].

The Club pack contains some real experience - props Des Brett and Simon Legg have both been at Rectory Field around eight years, as has second-row and skipper Tom Bason. Brett is one of the few Nat 1 players older than Jersey prop Ben Evans! Flanker Dave Allen is one of the star men and his battle with Jersey's Guy Thompson will be a key encounter - both are key men at the breakdown, and on the scoreboard - Allen scored 17 tries last season and has 11 so far this time around.

In the backs, young scrum-half Jack Walsh is a real talent tipped for great things and likely to start this weekend, while there's some real gas on the left-wing from another youngster, James Stephenson who has scored 11 tries so far this season. Centre Sam Windsor scored 260 points last season and played in all 30 games - he is also ever-present this season along with captain Bason and No 8 James Catt. But Windsor will be without partner Richard Lankshear, who is out until well into 2012 with a shoulder injury.

'Club' History
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.

League rugby began in the late 1980s, and Club began the 21st Century at Level Four before being promoted in 2003/04. The period at Level Three has been a solid one, with finishes of 9th, 9th, 5th, 4th, 6th, 8th and 6th in seven seasons thus far. 2010/11 even included an early win over eventual champions London Scottish.

Following the game

Don't forget that you can keep up-to-speed with news from Jersey v Blackheath through the following channels:
• Preview on BBC Radio Jersey's Sportscene from 6-7pm on Friday, and live commentary on Saturday afternoon. Even available in south-east London for those who are online.
• 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 on Saturday afternoon, either just before or just after 5pm depending on how many times the ref stops his watch
• Highlights on Channel TV at 6.15pm on Monday, and online.

Blackheath's website is also an excellent read with previews, match report etc

And finally...
This week's sermon ends with some parish notices: please would all fans remembers it's a 2pm start, and to allow plenty of time especially for car parking and entry to the ground. Or if you want to let someone else take the strain, there are plentiful bus options, as listed in the 'news' section of the site on December 2nd.

Enjoy your rugby this weekend. Oh, and until we start all over again in early January, have a great Christmas and Happy New Year.

Tom Innes

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