Chin choker for battling OEs
Agony for Elthamians as superb second half fightback falls just short in crucial promotion showdown.
Old Elthamians 31 Chinnor 34
It was a match that fully lived up to its billing.
An enthralling, physically intense and lung-busting encounter between two in-form sides who stood toe to toe from the first whistle in their quest for the victory that would put them in the box seat in the race for promotion.
But at the end of a contest that ebbed and flowed the way of both sides at various stages, crushing disappointment for Elthamians.
Looking dead and buried at half-time, down 27-10, they clawed their way back to within three points of the visitors thanks to a superb second half fightback, only to fall agonisingly short by the final whistle.
The Old Boys were left to rue an edgy, disjointed first half performance in which they conceded too many penalties - 11 in total – allowing a well-organised, clinical Chinnor outfit the opportunity to take a firm stranglehold on the game.
The visitors were beautifully served by half-back duo, Greg Goodfellow who was a thorn in OEs side all afternoon, and fly-half Jonny Bentley. The pair executed their game-plan to the letter and ensured Chinnor adapted better early on to the strong wind swirling round College Meadow which made playing conditions difficult for both sides throughout.
While Elthamians saw plenty of ball in the opening period they were knocked out of their stride by aggressive Chinnor defence which was quick to capitalise on any home errors. Indeed, the visitors served notice of the threat they would pose after only two minutes when they opened the scoring the first time they got their hands on the ball.
With OEs looking to move play wide, fly-half Will Robinson’s attempted pass appeared to be knocked out of his hand and Chinnor flanker Alex Bradley was the quickest to react to the loose ball, off-loading to lock Ben Manning who took play deep into the OEs 22. The ball was spread quickly down the line for winger Henry Lamont to cross in the right corner.
It was a soft try to concede but a dream start for Chinnor who swiftly extended their lead when Bentley added a straightforward penalty to his earlier conversion after flanker Hamish Barton was penalised for not releasing the tackler.
Down 10-0 after only 12 minutes was exactly the start Elthamians did not want. To their credit, however, they hit back almost immediately with their best attacking period of the half. Moving the ball quickly from the point of contact through nine phases, OEs poked and probed at the wall of black shirts before a searing break by centre James Golledge set up a ruck inside the Chinnor 22. The ball was fed quickly to Max Wilkins who had the strength to force his way through a chink of daylight in the black line in front of him and crash over for the try on 15 minutes.
Indiscipline again cost the home side dearly midway through the half when they were penalised for a slow release of an attacking player, and Bentley slotted over a simple kick in front of the posts to increase the lead to 13-7.
Tom White, taking over the kicking duties from Robinson, reduced the deficit to three points again with a straightforward penalty on the half hour mark, but with little to choose between the two sides, Elthamians were stunned by a Chinnor double whammy in the space of three devastating minutes just before half-time.
An overthrown Chinnor lineout on the edge of the OEs 22 bounced into the arms of prop Joe Hutchinson who set up a maul from which the Villagers switched play left and right looking to their big forwards to batter away at the OEs line. Eventually, the ball was moved right for lock CJ Osazuwa to muscle his way over in the 37th minute, Bentley again converting.
On the final play of the half, having initially made a hash of adequately clearing their lines in their own 22, OEs could only watch in horror as Goodfellow finished off a concerted period of Chinnor pressure by darting round the side of a ruck and jinking past three despairing tackles to score under the posts. Bentley’s simple conversion gave the Villagers a 27-10 lead at the break.
If the increasingly confident visitors were good value for their clear first half advantage, the second period belonged almost exclusively to Elthamians, who were a side transformed after the break.
With the wind behind them and needing an early score to claw their back into the game, the Old Boys came out all guns blazing. And they were rewarded with a well constructed score on 47 minutes. Lovely interplay between forwards and backs took play deep into the Chinnor 22, the ball was moved wide where White’s long pass found Golledge in space wide on the right and he was able to stand up his opposite number and cross the line.
White’s excellent touchline conversion visibly lifted the crowd who started to sense another Elthamians second half fightback.
That optimism was short-lived, however, as another OEs mistake allowed Chinnor to secure their fourth try of the match and the bonus point. A dropped pass from a home scrum five metres from their own line, gave Chinnor the put-in and in a perfect attacking position, replacement No.8 Ali Bone charged over from the base of the scrum.
Behind 34-17 entering the final quarter, Elthamians upped the tempo again, using their forwards to punch the ball up the middle to suck in the defence before moving play quickly away from contact to create space out wide.
Strong drives from Ian Kench and the hard-working Harry Ledger gave the OEs backs quick ball on the edge of the Chinnor 22 and they took full advantage, Chris Surman coming into the line from full-back and feeding winger Alex Brown who had the strength to barrel through three defenders for the score. White again kicked a cracking conversion this time from the left touchline to cut the visitors lead to 10 points.
Brown has been a revelation for Elthamians on the wing this season and with the home side growing in confidence and belief, he struck again just six minutes later. From a scrum on halfway, the ball was moved wide right and quickly recycled for Ledger to make the decisive break up the right touchline before releasing the winger with a lovely off-load out the back of his hand, giving him a straightforward run to the line.
It was try created out of nothing and with White converting, it took OEs to within three points of the Villagers and set up a nail-biting final 10 minutes in which momentum was now firmly with the home side.
With seven minutes remaining and OEs attacking just inside the visitors’ half, White was taken out by a late shoulder charge from Chinnor No.8 Bone who was promptly shown a yellow card from referee Gareth Holsgrove ensuring the visitors would see out the vital closing moments of this game with only 14 men. With White still winded, having received treatment for the late tackle, OEs elected to kick for position rather than go for the long range penalty attempt. The resulting lineout was knocked on and Elthamians were forced to build again.
With time running out, the home side threw everything at Chinnor, keeping the ball alive and spreading play back and forth to both flanks desperately in search of a gap in the wall of black shirts. They butchered a clear overlap after Kench and Wilkins had combined well in midfield to get in behind the defence but in the dying moments they were camped in the visitors’ 22, battering away at the visitors’ line in search of the match-winning score.
Finally after a succession of eight forward drives were stopped short by a huge defensive effort, the ball was spun right to Dom Lespierre, who had been well shackled by the Villagers’ defence all afternoon. It was OEs’ last chance but with the try-line in sight the winger was brought down by a desperate try-saving tackle from the tireless Goodfellow. The home crowd and OEs players called for a high tackle, the referee thought otherwise and Elthamians’ last chance had gone.
Tries: Wilkins (14), Golledge (47), A Brown x 2 (62, 68)
Pens: White (34)
Cons: Robinson (14) White x 3 (47, 62, 68)
Tries: Lamont (2), Osazuwa (37), Goodfellow (39) Bone (58)
Pens: Bentley (12, 24)
Cons: Bentley x 4 (2,37, 39, 58)
Old Elthamians: White, Lespierre, Golledge, Wilkins, A Brown, Robinson (Surman 40), Claxton (Parker 59), North (L Brown 59), Morris (Rudland-Thomas 47), Liffchak, Preocanin, Kench, Sullivan, Barton, Ledger. Replacement not used: Self
Chinnor: Goss, Lamont, Barnes, Peters, Broughton, Bentley (Strang 63), Goodfellow, Hutchinson (Price 47), Britton (Townsend 69), Tyack, Osazuwa, Manning, Pienaar, Bradley (Bone 47), Burns. Replacement not used: Thorpe.
Yellow card: Bone (72)
Referee: Gareth Holsgrove
Half-time: Old Elthamians 10 Chinnor 27