Lach's men back on track
Old Elthamians bounced back from the agonising Chinnor defeat with a highly efficient performance against a tough Redingensians Rams side.
Redingensians 7 Old Elthamians 20
The Rams have made a habit of causing Gavin Lach’s men no end of problems in recent meetings between the two sides. But in a hard-fought contest of few clear-cut chances and dominated by two strong defences, Elthamians always looked to have an edge, particularly in the set piece.
They started the game bristling with purpose and intent and set their stall out early on, winning a penalty at the very first scrum which fly-half Tom White elected to kick to the corner.
The scrum has been a potent weapon for the Old Boys and it again provided the platform from which they were able to take an early stranglehold after only five minutes. A second scrum, this time in the Rams 22, saw OEs get the shove on, the ball was spun quickly down the line for winger Alex Brown to barrel his way over in the left hand corner for his ninth try of the campaign.
It was a straightforward move off first phase possession but clinically executed and just the start Elthamians needed to shake off any lingering after-effects of the Chinnor defeat.
They proceeded to dominate the forward exchanges in the opening quarter with their pack securing most of the possession and giving plenty of front-foot ball for their backs to plug away at finding holes in the home defence.
As Elthamians have already found to their cost this season, however, the Rams defence is one of the most miserly and well organised in the division, and they struggled to find space behind the wall of blue shirts.
White added a well-struck penalty on 19 minutes to increase the visitors’ lead to 8-0, but with both defences very much on top, try-scoring opportunities were few and far between.
After a slow start, Redingensians, with flankers Ross Crame and Tom Vooght and outstanding hooker Ben Henderson prominent throughout, began to force their way back into the game.
They finally broke into the OEs 22 for the first time in the half on 27 minutes, but a series of forward drives were repelled by the visitors’ defence and when the ball was knocked loose, OEs were quick to capitalise.
Strong runs from hooker Jay Rudland-Thomas and Brown took play all the way into the Rams 22 where the visitors were awarded another scrum in an excellent attacking position in front of the home posts.
OEs won the penalty as the Rams scrum was shunted back again, and scrum-half Ollie Claxton, playing the advantage, was able to dart around the side to score with the final play of the half. White’s conversion gave OEs a fully deserved 15-0 lead at the interval.
Elthamians could be more than satisfied with their first half efforts, but it was the home side who came out of the dressing room galvanised at the start of the second period.
They immediately forced the visitors on the back foot, using their big ball carriers to pin them back in their own 22. Twice OEs were penalised for not rolling away at the breakdown and twice Rams centre Jordan Soutar kicked for the corner.
From the second lineout the Rams pack drove for the line allowing No.8 and captain Robbie Stapley to crash over for a try that brought the home side right back into the game, Soutar converting.
The score signalled a crucial period of the match with Redingensians, only eight points adrift and with their tails up, looking to heap more pressure on the visitors.
Having escaped further punishment during the early second half bombardment, however, it was Elthamians who stepped up a gear. Dom Lespierre, receiving the ball for the first time in space, relieved the pressure in his own half with a searing break to the edge of the Rams 22 on 55 minutes.
OEs now grabbed this game by the scruff of the neck and the home defence were forced into soaking up wave after wave of attacks in their own half.In their eagerness to grab the next score, however, OEs became increasingly frustrated by a series of unenforced errors as they tried too hard to force the final pass. Brown made a storming break through midfield but the ball was knocked on in the tackle, the OEs scrum pinched a ball against the head but again the ball was dropped and twice the backs were called for knock-ons.
Just when the Rams thought they had survived the onslaught with their line intact, Elthamians secured their third try of the afternoon 10 minutes from time when flanker George Messum bundled his way over the line following another strong forward drive by the OEs pack.
Any thoughts of a fourth OEs try and an all-important bonus point were quickly quashed, however, as Redingensians finished the match camped in the OEs 22. They launched a final assault on the visitors’ line but the aggressive Elthamians defence, despite losing Adam Preocanin to a yellow card, held firm to the final whistle.
Old Elthamians: Surman, Lespierre, Golledge, Wilkins, A Brown, White, Claxton, North, Rudland-Thomas, Liffchak, Preocanin, Kench, Messum, Barton, Ledger. Replacements: L Brown, Morris, Sullivan, Waltier, Chesters