OCTOBER 2018 - 250 not out for White as OEs hit the summit.
Injuries and more injuries. If September saw a dream start to the National One campaign, October threatened to be dominated by the club’s worst injury list in living memory. An astonishing 26 players were sidelined during the month, 23 of those unavailable for Elthamians’ return to Heywood Road, scene of the most memorable afternoon in the club’s history and that never-to-be-forgotten Play-off victory over Sale in 2017.
“Our Head of Medical Trevor Keys says he has never seen anything like it,” Lach said of the club’s rapidly increasing injury list which saw only three fit centres in the entire club and no less than five second rows sidelined. No wonder the beleaguered OEs boss looked ready to pack his boots in the build-up to the Sale game.
Heywood Road was a fitting stage for the club’s longest serving player Tom White to reach a major personal milestone - his 250th game in an Elthamians shirt. “It does seem like fate, to be playing my 250th game at the ground that provided the highlight of my career,” he admitted. “To be honest, I never thought I’d reach 250 appearances especially after leaving Blackheath ten years ago when Gav talked me into coming back to OEs. However, the set-up at Elthamians is amazing and we are looked after exceptionally well.”
But the 29-year-old fly-half insisted there was no time for sentiment until after the game. “If we have aspirations of being near the top of this league we need to approach it like any other game and get our basics right,” he said. “Only then can there be any room for sentiment and only with a win at 5pm on Saturday afternoon will I be able to relax and take it in.”
If a much changed Elthamians squad travelled to Manchester in trepidation, they quickly overcame a nervous start to blitz Sale with three tries in the space of six minutes to take a 24-10 half-time lead. Ironically, however, the match was dominated by an injury… but not to an Elthamian. Sale full-back Jonty Rawliffe was left prone on the turf after a nasty collision. An ambulance was called and both sides retreated to the dressing room for an unprecedented 72-minute delay.
When play finally resumed, Elthamians continued where they left off - scoring tries, then leaking them, for fun. Three times they led by 10 points in the second half and three times the home side clawed their way back into the match. To add insult to injury with just five minutes left on the clock and the small contingent of travelling fans beginning to wonder whether they’d make the train home to South East London, Sale centre Jack Moorhouse raced over in the left hand corner to give Sale a 42-38 victory on a bonkers afternoon in Greater Manchester.
Despite the defeat, the wide open nature of National One meant the two losing bonus points picked up at Sale moved Elthamians up to second in the table. And the following week at home to Loughborough history was made.
Lock Fred Hosking scored two tries as Elthamians romped to an emphatic 48-24 victory and in doing so reached the summit of National One for the first time in their history. It was a fantastic effort by everyone involved and prompted an emotional Lach to tweet later that night: “From London 3SE to the top of National One, job done!”
However, their time at the top was to last just seven days - for the time being at least - as an injury time try from Chinnor wing Reon Joseph deprived the Old Boys of their first ever victory at Kingsey Road in four attempts as they had to settle for a 20-20 draw.
“It was very frustrating,” OEs No.8 Ben King admitted, “but I think that is a testament to where we are as a team. Six months ago we would go to Chinnor expecting nothing from the game. So to leave with two points and feel frustration is a good thing in my eyes. We are very, very close to clicking and, when we do, I think we will cause some teams serious concern.”
Elthamians finished a difficult month on a high note, returning to the top of the table with a workmanlike 22-10 victory over Esher. It was far from emphatic, and it wasn’t pretty at times, but in the most open National One campaign for years this was another important step in the right direction for Lach’s men.
The previous season, Esher completed the double over the Old Boys, bringing them crashing down to earth in their first ever outing in National One, 39-14 at Molesey Road, and then inflicting a comprehensive 30-0 drubbing on the final day of the season at College Meadow.
This time round, however, Elthamians, featuring nine players in the starting line-up from that loss in April, showed they had learned invaluable lessons, running in three tries from Dom Lespierre, Harry Ledger and Michael Kovacic.
After an unbeaten opening month, the injury-stricken Extra 1st XV endured a disappointing October, getting thumped 54-0 against Richmond Saxons and then suffering a surprise first home defeat to Esher Cardinals 36-33. The two defeats sandwiched a thrilling late 36-33 win at Chinnor.
In their only fixture of the month, the Development XV, featuring 11 players under the age of 19, went down 39-25 to a strong Tonbridge Juddians 2nd XV in the Kent Invicta League, while the Bulls drew with Southwark Rebels 12-12 before going down 50-29 in a high scoring thriller at Old Alleynians.
It was business as usual for OEs Women who continued to find the transition to the higher level Championship Two south very much to their liking. A hard fought 19-19 draw with one of the division’s hot contenders Hammersmith and Fulham, was followed by a 17-10 victory at Hampstead and a comfortable 20-0 cup win over Romford & Gidea Park as they ended the month riding high at the top of Championship Two South.
Updated 20:23 - 3 Jan 2019 by Jon Edwards