This match was critically important to both sides – Blackheath challenging for promotion, Wharfedale fighting the threat of relegation.
The Greens deservedly edged a vital victory, but the visitors will rue a lack of discipline that saw them, shortly after half-time, operating with just 12 men. Forwards Tom Ellis (36 mins) and Keiron Scutt (40), plus centre and skipper Markus Burcham (42) were yellow-carded by referee Ben Blain.
Even so, such was the determination of Blackheath’s defenders that they conceded no tries in this frantic period – just a single James Guy penalty for the Greens, cancelling out one by Frederick Gabbitass for the Club.
The Dalesmen had the better of the opening exchanges, but line-out frailty saw two excellent scoring chances wasted after Guy had sent penalty kicks to close to the Blackheath line.
Blackheath, by contrast, were clinical when opportunities came their way. A fumbled high ball gave the first opening, hooker Scott Wright finishing off an efficient surge (13), Gabbitass converting. Four minutes later flanker Dave Allen touched down after a controlled maul from a line-out, and the visitors were 12-0 to the good.
Guy began Wharfedale’s fight-back with 2 mid-half penalties, and the deficit was cut to a single point when flanker Jack Barnard snatched an unconverted try by the corner flag after a ball squirted from a Blackheath scrum near their own line.
This became a ‘double whammy’ for the visitors, with Ellis receiving his yellow card for taking out James Doherty without the ball as the Dale skipper himself targeted the touchdown.
That offence surely warranted a penalty try (with a straightforward conversion), which Mr Griffiths eschewed on the ground that the alert Barnard scored in the same place that Doherty was heading for.
After Gabbitass and Guy had swapped the early second-half penalties, play was confined almost totally to the visitors’ half as the Greens attacked in force.
Blackheath centre Simon Whatling became the 4th visitor to see yellow (57), but he had returned to the fray before the crucial breakthrough in the 73rd minute. A mishandled ball presented centre Cameron Hudson with the chance to hack ahead and touch down unchallenged, leaving Guy a straightforward conversion.
Home fans were ecstatic, and Blackheath faced a wall of noise as they mounted a desperate effort to recover in the closing minutes. The Greens were not to be moved. Two scrums were efficiently dealt with and, with the referee confirming no-side, Doherty kicked the ball off the park, to riotous acclaim.
The skipper commented post-match: “The performance was not 100% perfect but it was certainly 100% committed. We went toe to toe with a top of the table side and finally came out on the right side of the result after falling short numerous times over the last few years. For some in the side it was their first experience of an ‘Avenue Roar’. It will live long in the memory and hopefully be the catalyst for performances to come.”
Retiring head coach Tom McGee, off to pastures new, could hardly have wished for a better send-off from his final home match in charge.
Wharfedale: Harry Bullough; Dan Tai, Cameron Hudson, Oliver Fewtrell, Matt Van Sertima; James Guy, James Doherty; Ricky Cano (Matt Beesley 52), Jordon Poole, Chris Steel (Ali Wade 49), Alistair Powell (Steve Graham 70), George Hedgley, Jack Barnard, Chris Howick, Jarad Williams.
Substitutes not used: Will Davidson, Jimmy Bullough