A controversial last-minute no-call stole victory from Albion’s grasp Saturday, as the sides sluggish opening to National League one continued with a close 21-20 loss at the Brickfields to Blackheath.
In the dying minutes of the game, Blackheath struggled to contain Albion’s strong forward pack through the scrum, opting to spoil play and wheel, rather than push back. After three attempts, a yellow was given to Blackheath prop, Tom Williams, but not a penalty try, to the amazement of the everyone in the crowd who could see that was the only way Albion were being kept out.
Albion head coach Kieran Hallett was dismayed at the late game decision making, which cost his side a needed win. He said:
“From where I’m stood, I think the ref called the penalty too early.
“We were still square, they’ve disintegrated, why he gave the penalty and not the penalty try I don’t know.”
To add further fuel to the flame, Blackheath lost their only remaining prop to an unseen injury, meaning an uncontested scrum had to be called, something Hallett felt was unacceptable, saying:
“We then got into a situation where one of their props was in the bin, then the other miraculously becomes injured, I have to be careful with what I say, but I think it was pretty clear to everyone here what was going on, there didn’t appear to be anything wrong with the prop to me.
“Why we only have one prop on the bench at this level of rugby and not a full set of replacements like the league above, I don’t understand.”
Jack Arnott, playing his first game back after a nasty shoulder injury side-lined the wing for half of last season, felt the squad shouldn’t have let that situation take place, saying:
“I’m not a referee, I know nothing about scrums, I try to stay away from that, but, there’s questions to be asked about that decision.
“As a squad we shouldn’t have got into that situation, we should have executed a bit earlier and shut Blackheath out of the game.”
“We came in with a game plan which we executed in the first half, but in the second we were off the ball, and you just can’t do that for a period of the game, so we’ll address our mistakes.”
Despite losing out to a bad call, Hallett still felt his side unworthy of the win at times during the game. He said:
“We just weren’t good enough.
“In the first half we were good, but in the second half we had too many individual errors, we didn’t manage to put together an attacking set till 25 minutes into the second half, and with the line-out and set piece being poor all day, we just couldn’t get into the game.
“It’s just frustrating, we showed in patches that we could score any time we had the ball, that wasn’t the issue, the issue was in winning the set pieces.
“It’s a long season, we’re definitely frustrated with the way we’ve played. We came close to nicking it there at the end, so it hurts a lot, but it’s our job as coaches to pick the guys up and piece together why it is we’re not clicking at the moment.”
The first half opened fairly unremarkably, with most of the possession being played out between the 22’s. Blackheath looked to score first, taking on an ambitiously ranged penalty kick from the halfway line. The boot of Elliot Clements-Hill had the range but lacked precision to leave his side empty handed.
After testing the waters, Albion began to string together a couple long pass, short phase, attacks which grew in momentum. Matt Shepherd led one such bulge into Blackheath’s half, but unfortunately left his three over lapped team mates on the wing to go for the line himself, ending in a knock on.
It only took Albion 30 seconds to find themselves knocking at the door again, and this time they converted. Playing close to his own left touchline, Dan Swain broke around the end of Blackheath’s line, brushing off a couple of last man tackles to carry himself over. The difficult conversion couldn’t be added, leaving the score 5-0.
Clements-Hill did reply with three points of his own, finding the mark on one of another two penalty attempts to leave the game close.
Arnott was given an open look at the line as Albion began another extended drive for points midway through the half. With the ball making its way through the centres quickly out to the undefended wing, Arnott was a little over eager, beginning his run onto a flat pass. The resulting take ended up bobbling forward.
With the momentum with the city side, Albion took a further hold on the game, taking a scrum five metres from Blackheath’s posts. Again, quick hands proved fruitful for Albion, who swung out left for Dean Squire to collapse over for a converted try.
One last piece of excitement saw Blackheath come close to seven, as they rebounded quickly from the breakdown. Side stepping his way through the middle of the park, Craig Dowsett was certain to play his part in the assist as he tried to get the ball over Connor Eastgate, who instead snatched the ball for himself and charging his way in the opposite direction.
The open passage of the second half played out in similar fashion to the first. The dry conditions meant both sides held the ball well when they gained possession, and most of the territory gained came as a result of kicks, or penalties.
Blackheath continued to distrust their own forward pack power, choosing to go for points instead of the corner, and Albion’s constant bleed of penalties gave the visitors plenty of opportunities to chisel away at their hosts lead.
On the stroke of 50 minutes, Albion would surrender another three points and loose captain Herbie Stupple to the bin, as Albion struggled to make an identity for themselves and secure the win.
A man down, and struggling for answers, Albion would let their grip on the lead loosen for the first time in the game, as Blackheath’s pressure proved too much for a tired defence, leaving prop Danny Herriott to touchdown between the uprights.
Dan Mugford, also returning from injury, added three from the bench to bring Albion back to within one, but Blackheath seemed determined to hold the advantage, taking the ball straight back down the park with the next possession for Jake Lloyd to add another try.
With time counting down, Albion made one last push, needing a converted try to win. For what seemed an eternity, the referee set then re-set the scrum, as Blackheath failed to hold themselves properly against Albion’s pack.
After losing the two props to a card and debatable injury, an un-opposed scrum was called for, cheating Albion out of another forward attacking play for the line. The ball did however find its way over with Shepherd scoring in the right-hand corner to set up some last second heroics.
With a win on the line, Mugford lined up to silence the crowd, but found his kick sailing agonisingly wide left.
15 Matthew Shepherd, 14 Jack Arnott, 13 Dean Squire, 12 Connor Eastgate, 11 Jonathan Dawe, 10 Fraser Honey, 9 Cameron Setter, 1 William Norton, 2 Paul Davis, 3 Daniel Pullinger, 4 Kieran Westlake, 5 John Kelly, 4 Daniel Swain, 7 Flynn Elworthy, 8 Herbie Stupple (C)
8 Luke Chapman, 4 Daniel Collier, 6 David McGregor, 14 Daniel Mugford, 20 Daniel Powell
15 Elliot Clements-Hill, 14 Jake Lloyd, 13 Alex Pickersgill, 12 Markus Burcham, 11 Craig Dowsett, 10 Mark Cooke, 9 Jack Daly, 1 Thomas Williams, 2 Michael Perks, 3 Danny Herriott, 4 Neale Patrick, 5 Joshua Peters, 6 Thomas Stradwick, 7 Harry Bate, 8 Ciaran Moore
16 Harry Fry, 17 Philip Ackuaku, 18 Frederick Owen, 19 Nicholas Foster, 20 Joseph Tarrant
Albion: 3 (Swain, Squire, Shepherd)
Blackheath: 2 (Lloyd, Herriott)
Albion: 1 (Mugford)
Blackheath: 3 (Clements-Hill 2, Tarrant 1)
Albion: 1 (Shepherd)
Blackheath: 1 (Tarrant)
Referee: Daniel Collins