Gosport talisman returns to drive team forward

Tom Blackburn. Picture: Sarah Standing
Tom Blackburn. Picture: Sarah Standing
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Forward talisman Tom Blackburn returns to lift Gosport & Fareham ahead of their important London one south clash against Brighton at Gosport Park tomorrow (2.30pm).

Blackburn missed the defeat at league-leaders Wimbledon because of Royal Navy duties but he returns for the south-coast clash.

Head coach Neil McRoberts regards him as a big presence and crucial to his team’s fortunes.

‘Having Tom back in the side is a massive boost for us,’ he said.

‘He is a huge character in the changing room, keeping everyone focused on the task ahead of them.

‘Tom is an intelligent rugby player and gives terrific support to our captain Tim Snowden out on the pitch.

‘We miss him when he isn’t in the team.’

The presence of Blackburn should help the home side tighten their defence, which is the worst in the league.

So far this season, the Gosport Park side have conceded 381 points in 10 games and that needs to change if they are to climb into the top half of the table.

McRoberts accepts his team need to tighten up but he doesn’t believe the statistics tell the whole story, with some disappointing performances skewing the tally.

He said: ‘A number of heavy defeats away from home, when we have not had our strongest team out, partly accounts for the number of points conceded.

‘In front of our own supporters at Gosport Park we have been a lot more miserly.

‘We know we are capable of scoring against any side in our league.

‘Scoring four tries for our first away bonus point at league-leaders Wimbledon is proof of that.’

Gosport’s biggest problem has been getting their strongest side out on the pitch week in, week out.

Early in the campaign a number of key players were absent on Royal Navy rugby duties in New Zealand.

Key players have also been missing when Gosport have been on their travels.

But the display against Wimbledon can give the team plenty of confidence.

It showed they are capable of mixing it with the top sides.

‘Except for a period when we had a player in the sin-bin, we were the better team,’ said McRoberts.

‘At this level you need to be putting out your strongest team consistently week in, week out.’

Again this weekend, the coach is waiting to see if he can include six of his squad who are in action for the Royal Navy under-23 side against the Army on Friday night.

‘I have to wait and check if they come through that game without picking up any knocks,’ added McRoberts.

The representatives include back-row forward Ben Roberts, second-row Ed Pascoe, who is set to make his Gosport & Fareham debut tomorrow, and winger Rory Penfold.

The home side also expect to give a debut to new prop forward Joshua Gilmartin.

Gilmartin was with the Saracens Academy before playing for National League Richmond.

He could prove to be a very valuable addition for the Gosport Park outfit.

McRoberts is hoping his new addition’s registration goes through in time for him to play.

Gosport & Fareham (from): Tom Lewis, Rory Penfold, Kieran McRoberts, Wayne Dugan, Jordan Humphries, Sam Foster, Wes Dugan, Joshua Gilmartin, Danny Gamblin, Tom Blackburn, Mark Pollard, Ed Pascoe, Ben Roberts, Tim Snowden, Chris Thompson, Harrison Marsh, Ash Wakefield, Alex Heron.