Old Albanian chalk up win at Blackheath

OA's full back Lawrence Rayner. Pictures by egbaldwinphotography

OA's full back Lawrence Rayner. Pictures by egbaldwinphotography - Credit: Archant

National League 1 Blackheath 27 Old Albanian 32

Old Albanian v Blackheath

Old Albanian v Blackheath - Credit: Archant

LLOYD Bickle, still nursing last week’s injury, talked of the challenge posed by Blackheath as the team boarded the coach for the journey to the Rectory Field, writes Brian Quinn.

“In September’s game we played the better rugby in the first half and led at the break”, he said.

“After that we closed up the shop and their powerful forwards and Rory Teague’s kicking game gave them 36 unanswered points.”

He pointed out what the team have learned in the meantime. “Each player has to ‘man up’ in defence and make sure responsibility is taken for the full 80 minutes. If we attend to this detail,” he mused, “we are pretty confident we can make our own scoring chances as the match unfolds.”

His words proved uncannily accurate.

No less than 11 players have suffered injury in the past month or so, but this situation has been managed successfully by the squad system OAs operate and the players filling the gaps have proved more than up to the task. On Saturday they needed to be.

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Albanian kicked off towards the clubhouse and there followed 10 minutes of error strewn play. Blackheath were the first to recover from this malaise and driving forward play led to a penalty on A’s 22.

Teague kicked for the corner and David Bonner opened the scoring for club. Teague added the extras.

OAs immediately responded with a drive into Blackheath territory and Lawrence Rayner’s penalty reduced the deficit after 13 minutes. Five minutes later frenetic action switched to the far end of the field and livewire scrum half Jack Walsh dashed for the visitors’ line, when 10 metres out he gave the pass to release a three-man overlap on the left.

All OAs’ defence could manage was a deliberate knock-on for an automatic penalty try, converted again by Teague.

Walsh went from hero to villain in the second quarter when he tried to defend a powerful Albanian surge close to the hosts’ line. Referee Mr Davies judged his actions illegal and he was sent to the sin bin for 10 minutes.

This was one of the game’s turning points and Billy Johnson charged over from a five-metre scrum. Rayner converted successfully.

Five minutes later, with Walsh still absent and the visitors still camped in their opponents’ half, a brilliant pass from James Shanahan after two storming passages of play put Rayner through the gap to give his side the lead for the first time. He converted his own try just before Walsh returned to the fray.

Restored to full strength Blackheath regrouped and Bonner scored his second try with a sharp break wide out on the right. Teague could not convert but his side had a two-point advantage at the interval.

He did increase the lead with a penalty four minutes into the second period, but the strength of Matt Chambers evened things up after four fine passages of play. Rayner couldn’t convert.

The attention to detail mentioned earlier by Bickle served Albanian well and for a while Blackheath’s strength up front was neutralised by great forward defence and incisive strikes all along the talented OA backline.

During one such move Chris May, a thorn in the club side all afternoon, made sufficient ground for Chris Lombaard to dot down for the bonus point try which again went unconverted.

The hosts then returned to their traditional strength and a powerful driving maul loomed into the Albanian 22. Brett McNamee was adjudged the guilty party when this went to ground and became the second player binned on the day. With 13 minutes left David Dunne put Liam Gibson in for the equalising score in this tremendous second half.

Chambers had the last word going into injury-time with his second surge close to the posts and though the conversion came back off the woodwork it was enough to start Albanian celebrations.

The coaches seemed agreed about the day’s proceedings. Shanahan simply said how proud he was of his charges. Magnanimous in defeat Yussuf Ibrahim praised Albanian for taking their chances when it mattered.

It will matter again this Saturday when Esher are entertained at Woollams (kick-off 3pm) and it will be seen if Albanian’s attention to detail is enough to topple a side one place ahead in National League 1.