Blackheath scrum half ready for derby test

BY GRAHAM COX

When Blackheath and Old Elthamian met in league competition for the first time last season, honours were shared with each claiming victory in their respective home tie.

Blackheath will enjoy home advantage tomorrow when the two sides meet again at Well Hall but Elthamians, who after three promotions in five years finished their first National League One campaign just behind their near neighbours, have made little secret of their ambition to go further and usurp their famous rivals as the top club in South London.

Blackheath v Ealing Trailfinders at Well Hall (London, UK) on the 18th August 2018 London, United Kingdom
It’s a rivalry appreciated by Stef Liebenberg, even though the experienced scrum-half only made his Club debut in Blackheath’s 36-7 victory at Esher last weekend.

“Growing up playing rugby around Cape Town involved intense inter-town rivalry, and I played in one of the most high-profile school matches in the country,” said Liebenberg

“Here, you take a ball to the park and kick it around, but in South Africa you run about throwing and passing.

“Rugby is a way of life and you learn a competitive edge from an early age, but the best players thrive on big occasions and rise to the pressure.”

Originally from Bloemfontein, Liebenberg attended Paarl Gimnasium School – responsible for producing Schalk Burger, Jean de Villiers, Handrè Pollard and numerous other Springboks – before gaining a scholarship to University of the Free State and representing the first team.

But in 2006 and at the age of 22, he decided to move with future wife Melanie to her native England.

Initially joining Bury St Edmunds, he soon moved on to join an ambitious Cambridge side, led by  James Shanahan – who is now Blackheath head coach.
Stef Liebenberg in Cambridge colours
“I’ve played over 150 games, partnering Shanners at half-back [both at Cambridge and later with Old Albanian]. I’m a great admirer of his coaching philosophy which focusses on attack and great lines of running.  It’s good to be working with him again.”

Liebenberg spent six years with Cambridge in two separate stints, in between which came three seasons at Old Albanian which, in turn, sandwiched a season in the Championship with Bedford Blues.

“If I’m honest, I didn’t really enjoy that year,” continued Stef.

“National League One is much more expansive than Championship rugby.

“You get really good players, young guys on their way up and others who’ve tasted the fully professional game and now want to combine their game with a career outside.

“It’s much more expressive and less restrictive.”

Liebenberg’s career away from rugby is a big part of his life, having set up his own company called iFence – a domestic, equestrian and agricultural fencing business.

He is expecting the arrival of a third son any day.

“My children have really enlightened my perspective towards rugby and life in general, and I’m lucky,” he explained.

“Melanie is so supportive in allowing me to chase my dreams and pursue playing rugby.”

Liebenberg’s rugby career in England, which most recently includes a season with Ampthill & District, has seen him make 262 league appearances – 18 in the Championship –  and score 74 tries.

Now, Blackheath supporters, who have spent more than a decade seeing Liebenberg, who spends his summer playing cricket for Newmarket-based Harlton, as a familiar adversary, can enjoy his swift pass and astute rugby brain in Club colours.

“As a player, having played numerous times against Blackheath, it’s a huge honour to have joined a club with such a history.

“I hope I can contribute to that and add to what the Club is trying to achieve.”

The game is a 3pm kick-off. Bars and refreshments are available from midday.


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