SHELL-SHOCKED ESHER AMBUSHED BY RAMPANT ‘CLUB’
BLACKHEATH (31) 38
Tries: Allen (3), Tincknell (2), O’Meara
Convs: Whatling (4)
ESHER RUGBY (5) 10
A stunning opening 15 minutes saw ‘Club’ notch up four scores to stun their London neighbours, with relegation-threatened Blackheath going on to record a hugely important 38-10 win.
After defeats at Old Albanian and then at home against Wharfedale last time out, the men in black and amber were looking to get their season back on track but any lingering hopes of promotion were surely extinguished by a Blackheath outfit that belied their lowly position in the league standings.
Dave Allen’s double, combined with tries from hooker Gavin O’Meara and James Tincknell, saw the home side secure the bonus point before a quarter of the game had elapsed, leaving the home faithful just as stunned as their guests.
The prolific Allen went on to complete his hat-trick, with on-loan London Welsh flyer Tincknell also notching another to ensure Esher left south east London feeling exactly the way they did on their last visit to Rectory Field, when Rory Teague tormented them en-route to orchestrating his side’s 24-3 triumph.
With no less than 12 senior players unavailable for selection, Esher boss Ricky Nebbett was forced to shuffle his pack but even that did not give the slightest of indications that the Championship hopefuls were to be subjected to a torrid opening.
As early as the third minute, Blackheath deployed what was to be Esher’s kryptonite – the driving maul – and Allen, as he so often does, was the man at the tail who crashed over after peeling off from a couple of yards out.
The euphoria had barely died down before Simon Legg’s men delivered a second blow. Full-back Mike Canty stretched his legs to hare down the middle of the pitch, taking him deep into the Esher half. With the defence in front of him stretched, Simon Whatling briefly saw a chink and had a go. That he was denied was not a problem. Not more than a metre out, O’Meara picked up to crash over and the visitors were in all sorts of bother.
It was to get worse. An exact replica of the move that led to the opening try ended with the same result as Allen was driven over for his second. If there was euphoria after the first five-pointer of the day, there was what could be best described as bedlam when Tincknell went in for a fourth. Dan Hamilton was this time the instigator, driving at the heart of the Esher defence, giving Whatling and Canty the time to combine and put in Tincknell. He still had plenty to do, in little space, but finished with aplomb to drive the knife further into the gaping wounds of their opposition.
With the game gone and only pride to play for, the Surrey unit re-grouped of sorts and dragged themselves back into it, the reaction reminiscent of a boxer having smelling salts shoved up his nostrils. Arran Cruickshanks put away Spencer Sutherland from a strong scrum in Esher’s first moment of intent and though the pass didn’t stick, the travelling support finally had something to cheer moments later.
Billy Moss led the ‘round the corner’ work up front – his dual with London Welsh colleague Cai Griffiths was an excellent one, with both men clearly enjoying the opportunity to play some rugby – before it was moved wide. Sutherland had worked his way into midfield and his pass put in Jack Cooke. The young academy product needed no second invitation to attack and that he did, searing to the line with something to spare, at last giving his team a foothold.
Moss continued to lead from the front, followed closely by Mike Macfarlane and though the damage had quite clearly already been done, a need for self-preservation would ensure there were some decent showings from a number of names in the visiting ranks.
Huff and puff as Esher might, Blackheath eventually swung the pendulum back in their favour and when they were given the opportunity to kick for goal five minutes before the break, returning skipper Tom Bason opted not to, instead pointing his paw to the corner.
From exactly the same position which Allen’s opening two scores were born came his third. A clinically executed lineout led to the inevitable surge to the line, which couldn’t be stopped. The understated Allen was the last man to leave the turf, symbolising the unstoppable force that Blackheath had transformed into in the period of 40 pulsating minutes.
A couple of rib-ticklers from Steve Wood and Cooke immediately after the re-start gave an indication as to the sort of temperature that might have been reached in the away dressing room at the interval. Even the added ferocity, though, could not stop Tincknell.
Going from left to right, the former Wharfedale, Leeds, Doncaster and Cornish Pirates utility back hit the line at pace and it was clear to see why he is still so highly rated in the professional game. He was never going to be caught after putting his foot down and went over for his second and Blackheath’s sixth in some style.
Esher were in real danger of conceding a half-century of points and it was now all a case of mindset. To their absolute credit, the final half hour of the game saw Esher front up and they should have added at least a further two tries to the one they did, from replacement Neil Sweeney.
Patrick O’Grady teed up Tom Whelan, who somehow lost control of the ball when as good as standing on the try-line and Anders Mogensen, who did very little wrong all afternoon, just overran Cruickshanks when the centre’s pass would have put the full-back in the clear.
Sweeney’s score was a neatly engineered effort, a smart give-and-go with George Drye at the lineout seeing the man who has taken on the captaincy in the prolonged absence of Ian Kench find some space. He finished well in the corner to bring the Esher score into double figures, and Paul Olima might have had one on his debut late on, only to be ushered into the hoardings.
As the apocalyptic weather set in and lashings of debris scuttled across the pitch, referee Nick Cockburn relieved Esher of their nightmare and invited the 900-strong crowd to retreat into the warmth of the clubhouse to congratulate and commiserate, dependent entirely of course, on their allegiance.
Esher have a week to get a number of individuals off the physio table. Only Spencer Sutherland played in the back division from the side that narrowly lost out to Wharfedale just a week earlier, and Nebbett will be hoping the likes of Tom Cheeseman and Andy Wright will be back in the frame for the visit of Worthing Raiders. One man who is definitely out is Luke Daniels, with the full-back being diagnosed with a torn hamstring post the ‘Dale encounter.
With Fylde on a roll, and Rosslyn Park and Doncaster Knights continuing to flex their muscles at the head of the pack, February is a critical month for Esher. The Fylde game on the 8th will more than likely provide a fairly accurate barometer as to where both sides might finish come late April.
Kick-off against Worthing at Molesey Road, who should include the former Esher duo of Simon Gaynor and Ollie Richards in their ranks, is at 3pm.
Blackheath: Canty; Windsor, Burcham, Tincknell, Hamilton; Whatling, Walsh; Kilbane, O’Meara, Griffiths; Bason (c), Stradwick; Pike, Allen, Catt.
Replacements: Grier for O’Meara (71), Cleverly for Catt (77, sin bin – for Kilbane 79), Liston for Bason (69), Eydmann for Walsh (71), Graham for Burcham (45).
Sin bin: Griffiths (68)
Ref: Mr. Nick Cockburn