The West London club arrive at College Meadow as the form team in National One after recording their sixth successive victory last Saturday, an impressive 46-24 triumph over fellow promotion contenders Rotherham Titans which knocked Elthamians off the top of the table in the process.
Park are now three points clear of OEs who dropped to third on points difference behind Blackheath following Saturday’s disappointing 41-26 defeat at Darlington Mowden Park, their second successive defeat after the one point loss to their local rivals before Christmas.
OEs Director of Rugby insists his side cannot afford another slip up if they are to keep up the pressure on their nearest rivals at the top of the table. “It’s not do or die yet because the league is so tight this season, fortunes keep changing every week - we have had nine different teams at the top at National 1 so far this season," he said. "But there’s no point playing down Saturday’s game: it’s massive for both sides and certainly our biggest game of the season so far."
“If we were to lose and other results go their way, Park could be seven or eight points clear at the top on Saturday night which is a large gap to make up at this stage of the campaign, especially as I cannot see Park slipping up too many times between now and the end of the season. It wouldn’t be the end for us, but it would make life exceptionally difficult."
Lach added: “So we know what we have to do. It’s imperative we bounce back from the Darlington performance which was very disappointing.”
OEs boss sees parallels with Elthamians’ current situation and their promotion-winning campaign in National Two South in 2017-18 and is hoping that history will repeat itself on Saturday as he looks for a positive response from his side.
In 2017, OEs were in a three-way battle for the National Two title with Chinnor and Bishop’s Stortford, but, in circumstances eerily similar to the Blackheath defeat, they lost a crucial top-of-the-table clash early in the new year against Stortford after having a man sent off in the opening two minutes. That loss was followed by a home defeat to Taunton which left OEs in third place, six points adrift of the leaders and their promotion bid apparently in tatters,
However, in a thrilling finale to the season, Elthamians won 10 of their remaining 11 games to force their way into the Play-off final and that memorable victory at Sale.
Twelve of Elthamians’ promotion-winning squad are likely to feature against Park tomorrow and Lach believes that experience will be invaluable as OEs enter the business end of the campaign. “It is similar to 2016-17 with the recent defeats to Blackheath and having a man sent off in that game, and then the Darlington defeat,” he said, “although obviously the stakes are much higher now and the quality of opposition week on, week is much better. And only one go up!
“The good thing is these players have been in this type of pressure situation before where every game is like a cup final and they cannot look any further than the next game. They know how quickly things can change. So there will be no panic or trying to force things - we are treating this game like any other, and our preparation will be no different.”
When the two sides met at the Rock in September, Rosslyn Park ended Elthamians’ unbeaten start to the season with a 37-24 victory in torrential rain in West London after racing into a 20-3 lead in the opening quarter. “Rosslyn Park are a quality side,” Lach said, “I would say probably the best team we have played this season, no question. So you can’t give a side like that a 20-point head start and expect to win the game. We made a similarly slow start on Saturday up at Darlington and were punished. So it’s imperative we begin well on Saturday. At least this time round the forecast is for a dry afternoon!"
Updated 09:08 - 14 Jan 2019 by Jon Edwards