There was a distinct end-of-season feel about Rosslyn Park's 24-10 defeat to Blackheath on Saturday, played on a drab, wet and windy afternoon in front of a large crowd at the Rectory Field.
If the match stats show Park had a slight edge in both possession and territory, then that does scant justice to Blackheath, who enjoyed a distinctive edge in the rather important areas of taking chances and defending safely.
Park opened with a good attack, rather harshly penalised for not releasing and enjoyed an early period of dominance.
However, when the home side eventually settled to launch an attack the Park defence conspired to concede the simplest of tries, allowing centre Richard Windsor to ghost through the middle, more or less unmolested, to give fly half Sam Windsor an easy conversion for 7-0.
Park continued to have at least as much of the play as Blackheath, and looked marginally the better side in midfield, but they were unable to really trouble a sound defence. Probably the best chance Park engineered was a great attack up the left by Nev Edwards, which was unfortunately ended with a penalty the other way.
A dank afternoon was brought alive with a truly magnificent try. Park launched a good attack up the left, but when possession was turned over, winger James Stephenson broke quickly and soon had players in support.
The ball was passed through several hands at high speed diagonally across the field for hooker Gavin O’Meara to score in the opposite corner on 28 minutes.
A defensive coach might well ask his charges, “So how come none of you could get back to defend quicker than their hooker could run the length of the field?” For spectators it was simply a great try.
With the wind in their sails, almost literally on a gusty afternoon, only three minutes later Blackheath attacked up the right and a pass inside saw Sam Windsor in space and he had only to dive over for a try he converted himself for 19-0 on 31 minutes. Easy pickings.
The game was put beyond Park five minutes later when, as Paul Unseld tried to break up the left, the referee stooped play and showed Park hooker Dan Richmond the red card following a ruck, apparently for stamping.
If the referee was right then it is, to put it mildly, not a helpful example from an experienced player who doubles as forwards coach.
At the next breakdown, Park were forced to withdraw Harry Rowland in order to bring on substitute hooker Ben Gotting to ensure front row safety.
It looked as if things could get no worse for Park as they began the second half with 14 men. Wrong. After only twp minutes, Gotting managed to get himself yellow-carded thus reducing numbers to 13. To lose two hookers in about 10 minutes playing time looks a tad more than careless.
If the wound was self-inflicted then Park at least responded with some really dogged backs-to-the wall defence to deny Blackheath a score during Gotting’s enforced rest.
Ironically, almost immediately Park were restored to 14, home winger Tom Chapman popped up the right wing for a simple try and at 24-0 it all looked done and dusted.
With only pride to play for, Park at least showed they had plenty of it. Ross Laidlaw kicked a simple penalty on 65 minutes to belatedly put his team on the scoreboard and then, eight minutes later, Mike Baxter (on for Paul Unseld) finished off a move to put his team within range of a bonus point after their earlier travails.
They set about their task with relish, and as full-time beckoned it looked as if they had cracked it when a good move launched John Rudd on a powerful run through the middle.
With the line between the posts at his mercy, to his absolute horror, the winger lost control of the ball and dropped it forwards. It just about summed up his side’s afternoon.
Park: Edwards; Unseld (Baxter), Parsons, Gower, Rudd; Laidlaw; Barr; Marfo, Richmond, Graham; Anderson, Lloyd-Jones; Rowland (Gotting / Barratt), Campbell, McKeen.
Subs not used: Lewis, Shabbo.
Park scorers: Baxter (T), Laidlaw (P, C).