Old Elthamians 17 Redingensians 10
Rams Rebutted as Old Elthamians Win Promotion to National 2
A very tense match saw the runners-up in National 2 London & SE welcome the second-placed team from Nat 3 SW to Foxbury, and run out winners.
Tries from Steve Hamilton and Jonny Williams, and two conversions and a penalty from Tom White cancelled tries from Redigensians’ Hopkins and Baker: the value of a good kicker.
As this was a play-off game, a neutral referee had been appointed.
Claire Hodnett has had a few top-notch appointments this season and it’s said that she’s going to be the first female referee in the Premiership. On her performance today, she would not be out of place at the top level of rugby. Frank Venner and Matt Todd, both of whom have been at Foxbury this season, made up the team of three. Dave Parsons was the fourth official and it was good to welcome him back, too.
Redingensians brought three coach loads of players, officials and supporters from Berkshire, determined to end their eight-year wait to get out of Nat 3. The clubhouse was closed to all except those attending the pre-match lunch, with a bar set up in a marquee just outside to cater for everyone else. In addition, sterling work was done at a few barbeques within staggering distance of the bars, so nobody went thirsty or hungry.
It was good to see league officials and RFU dignitaries in attendance, with over 80 at the lunch. The atmosphere was friendly, with both sets of supporters determined to show the game of rugby in its best light. At 2.30, we all de-camped to walk round to the hospital pitch.
John Lloyd’s playing surface was at its best. Probably the best pitch in the league was absolutely superb and it drew admiring comments from many supporters. Thank you, John, for giving us the chance to use your facilities this season.
Old Elthamians kicked off, playing up the slight slope. Within three minutes, they were three points up when White scored a reasonably easy penalty as Redingensians offended twice at the break down. The first saw a visitor in from the side at a maul, the second a player pulling down a subsequent maul: Redingensians were having a nervy start.
The restart was kicked too long and the team in red jerseys needed to settle down. They achieved this by reverting to type: captain Amor in charge, the visitors’ forwards kept the ball close in pick-and-go manoeuvres to rumble towards the try-line. OEs had to defend deep, and make sure each defender nailed his man.
With almost ten minutes played, Elthamians struck again. Charlie Edwards at scrumhalf directed the attack through several phases until an overlap appeared on the right. Dave Bonner took the ball back inside and there was Hamilton to crash through near the posts. White hit the extras and the home side took a giant leap towards National 2; 10-0.
Without Nick Porter playing, due to a thumb injury, the Old Boys’ front row was lighter than of late, and the visitors started to dominate up front. Ms Hodnett was allowing the game to flow and Redingensians dragged themselves back into the game by winning a couple of scrums against the head: unusual for OEs this season.
Another tactic the Rams used well was the tap penalty. While Edwards has been pretty good at this for OEs, the visitors excelled, running to the mark and setting the attacking going. They made a few inroads into the dismayed defence; the referee seemed lenient on tacklers not being 10 metres.
The pick-and-go was also causing concern in OEs defence. On several occasions desperate defence meant that Redingensians rucked to within five metres of the try-line; it was often a knock-on that undid the visitors’ attack.
The Rams were further undone when centre Hopkins was shown an unfortunate yellow card in the 33rd minute. He was in front of play as OEs attacked down the left and a turnover in the ensuing ruck meant the ball popped out back to the fullback, who could only fly hack it forward on the full. The ball came to Hopkins, who gathered and set up the next play. Ms Hodnett was unsympathetic: ten minutes in the bin.
Redingensians dug even deeper and succeeded in scoring before half time. Flanker Azza Hopkins appeared at the right time on the right and finished off the move with a great run on the right. Although Bryans missed the conversion, Redingensians were now back in the game; 10-5.
Ms Hodnett played a few minutes extra to cover injuries and stoppages, and then blew for half time with Old Elthamians 10-5 in front.
The half-time talk in the away dressing room must have had an effect as Redingensians started the second half determined to make up the difference. A penalty – in from the side – at a ruck after only two minutes was kicked into the corner for a lineout. Three minutes later, the pick-and-go forward play was rewarded as prop Baker came up with the ball after a pushover try. Bryans hit the left-hand post with the attempt to take the lead; but now the game was level, with the visitors looking the stronger team: 10-10.
OEs hit back with some pressure of their own, only to be foiled by a forward pass.
Two minutes later Renford Bennett, the top try-scorer in National 3, handed the home side the lead. Although he had been quiet, and Elthamians have struggled of late to give him the ball at the right time - in space and with the chance to make ground - he received the ball in a central position, behind halfway. His mazy run beat four or five would-be tacklers and gave him a two-on-one with the fullback, as Jonny Williams supported on his shoulder. A simple pass and the moustachioed right-winger was in: a try worthy of the great occasion.
White buried the conversion and Elthamians had a seven-point lead, with some 25 minutes to play; 17-10.
Redingensians then took hold of the game, driving and scrummaging for their lives. Another quick tap penalty almost made it: White carrying the ball into touch to prevent a try.
Elthamians weren’t going to roll over, though, and a swift attack nearly gave Bennett the chance to extend the lead. He was forced into touch – like all wingers, he must hate white lines – and the attempt was thwarted.
Another home team attack produced what seemed to be another Williams try. The Old Boys went right and White chipped over into the corner for the winger to run on to. He looked to have touched down, if awkwardly, but Ms Hodnett consulted her touch judge and ruled it not grounded.
Without being unfair to Redingensians, who scrummaged, kicked penalties for position and generally did whatever they could, Elthamians looked as though they were going to hold on, and they did.
The referee allowed about six minutes of stoppage time, but Old Elthamians emerged winners and are duly promoted to National 2 South.
Well played to both teams and huge commiserations to Redingensians, who kept fighting to the end. Although their play might have been slightly one-dimensional, they showed what a class act they are.
The final score was old Elthamians 17 Redingensians 10.
Amid huge celebrations, all repaired to the bar to enjoy the moment or drown their sorrows.
An immense thank you to all who helped on the day, from the players, coaches, support staff and officials, to the guys cooking, serving beer and the ladies in the kitchen!