Squeaky bum time as OEs leave it late... again and again
‘We are definitely equipped to go the distance,’ insisted wing Dom Lespierre ahead of a daunting trip to Brickfields to face Plymouth Albion.
“We’ve been really good but there’s always room for growth. Our captain Hamish [Barton] always says that our last game is our benchmark and we have to get better each week. Sometimes we’ve done that and sometimes we’ve come up a bit short which is disappointing. But if we can play to our full potential consistently, come the end of April we will finish where we have set out to.”
November was a month when fingernails on OEs supporters were conspicuous by their absence. Indeed, if National One matches lasted only 70 minutes, life would have been considerably less stressful so far this season.
It had been a recurring theme. In seven league games, the Old Boys had conceded late tries in the final 10 minutes after being in the box seat for the previous 70.
And on a wet, murky afternoon on the south coast, OEs duly put their small travelling support through the wringer once again, producing a superb goal-line stand in the dying moments to secure a first win, 19-15, at Brickfields.
It was a result which left Elthamians second in the table on points difference behind Blackheath with a third of the season gone. “I’d give us an 8/10 so far,” said Sam Howard. “We have been very good for probably 80 per cent of the time, but slight lapses in concentration and silly errors have hurt us at times.
“I’ve made no secret of the fact that I’ve always felt we were good enough to be in the top three in the league, so our position hasn’t exceeded my expectations, but it has been an outstanding effort of which the players should feel very proud. The fact that we’ve played six away games, three of them against teams in the top five last year and also used 38 players shows that we have also done it the hard way so far!”
They certainly did it the hard way a fortnight later, preserving their unbeaten home record by the skin of their teeth as Ampthill, the only side OEs have yet to beat in National One, missed a penalty to win the game with the final kick of the match.
Visitors full-back James Pritchard pushed a straightforward penalty wide in injury time much to the relief of the home side who had been forced to withstand sustained Ampthill pressure towards the end of this hard fought contest.
In a season of increasingly fine margins, Howard admitted afterwards he wasn’t sure whether to be relieved or disappointed as Elthamians were forced to settle for 13-13 a draw in the top-of-the-table clash at College Meadow.
And for those Elthamians fans of a nervous disposition, it was squeaky bum time again at Cambridge a week later as the Old Boys produced another late show.
Winger Alex Brown dived over (pictured) with just four minutes remaining of another impossibly tight, nerve-racking contest to secure a 20-17 victory at Grantchester Road and keep the pressure on at the top of the table.
Elsewhere, it was a mixed bag of a month for the Extras 1sts who went down narrowly in two games to Ampthill (21-19) and Cambridge (24-17). However, the Cambridge defeat marked a notable debut appearance for the club’s new signing, winger George Perkins. A junior World Cup winner with England Under-20s and a former team-mate of Max Wilkins at Saracens, the paceman arrived at College Meadow after a couple of lean years with Premiership club Bristol.
“I had spoken to Max a few times about Old Elthamians in the past and he only ever had good things to say about the club,” Perkins explained. “So when I hit a tricky time at Bristol, I spoke with Gav [Lach] and Max about the idea of me coming to the club and it seemed to be a good idea. I like the vision of this club and obviously that is reflected by the results the boys are getting at the moment. I think it’s an exciting time to be a part of this club.”
It had been a frustrating period as well for the Development XV with opposition cry-offs restricting them to just one game in the month, a high scoring 41-33 defeat to Sidcup 2nds. It was the same story for the Bulls whose only appearance in November was a narrow 22-20 defeat to Sidcup 3rds in Kent Premier West.
There was also a result rarer than hen’s teeth as Championship Two South leaders OEs Women lost their first ever league match 36-12 to an impressive Old Albanians side at College Meadow.
But DoR Catherine Spencer believed the result could prove beneficial to her side in the long term. “The defeat against a tough Albanian side was a new experience for us,” she admitted. “Of course we wanted to win but it does feel like some of the pressure has been lifted off our shoulders.
“Our performances have dropped in recent games because I think we were too concerned about winning rather than how we are playing on the pitch. Now we can focus once more on our performance and player and squad development which has been our aim from the start.”
And normal service was resumed for the remainder of the month as Elthamians beat Lewes 26-19 then secured an excellent 24-0 win in the big local derby at Beckenham.
Updated 08:26 - 4 Jan 2019 by Jon Edwards