Rampant OEs hit a record high
Records tumbled at College Meadow as Elthamians obliterated bottom club Exmouth and blew the promotion race wide open in the process.
Old Elthamians 97 Exmouth 7
Remarkable. Truly remarkable.
Just when you thought there could be no more twists and turns left in this most exciting and unpredictable of league campaigns, then this.
OEs ran in a club record 15 tries to record the highest victory in National Two South since Cambridge’s 109-0 demolition of Launceston in April last year. It was OEs’ biggest ever win in the National Leagues, their biggest ever home win since the advent of league rugby in 1987 and their biggest league victory since winning 105-5 at Purley John Fisher in London Two in 2011.
Even more significant was the news filtering through from Clifton that OEs’ promotion rivals Chinnor had suffered a shock 33-17 defeat, reducing the gap between second and third place to just one point. If Carlsberg did Saturday afternoons...
It put the seal on a memorable and, frankly barmy, afternoon at the Meadow which left most supporters at first delighted, then more than a little bemused by the one-sided shellacking unfolding in front of them.
Were Elthamians as outstanding as the scoreline suggests? For large periods, yes. Their handling, continuity and support play were sensational at times. They have threatened a sustained attacking performance like this all season and some of their off-loading and running lines were a delight to watch. But, boy, did Exmouth make it easy for them by giving their strike runners the freedom of the park.
In fact, it’s hard to gauge just how good Elthamians were because Exmouth, to put it bluntly, and as their Director of Rugby Simon Hill admitted afterwards, were abject, particularly in defence.
Hill was scathing of his side in his comments after the game, accusing his players of self-destructing after 10 minutes and describing the performance as a ‘horror show’. It’s hard to argue with him.
When the two sides met on the Devon Coast in November, although the Cockles went down 29-8, they were fully committed, powerful and industrious at the breakdown, competitive at the set piece and caused OEs plenty of problems with the ball in hand. Attributes that were all sorely missing on Saturday.
It was hard not to feel sorry for visitors because they are a much better side than their performance at College Meadow would suggest, no question. But their day started badly and got progressively worse from the moment they stepped off the coach just 10 minutes before the scheduled start because of traffic delays en route, resulting in the kick-off being put back 20 minutes.
With their pre-match preparations in tatters, the Cockles were competitive for the five minutes it took the Old Boys to open the scoring when captain James Golledge collected Tom White’s lovely chip over the advancing defensive line and cross the try-line.
Then defensively, Exmouth simply imploded.
Time and again, the Elthamian runners shrugged off powder puff first-up tackles to race through yawning gaps in the midfield and then have all the time in the world to look around for support without a defender in sight.
Wingers Dom Lespierre and Alex Brown both scored tries on opposite flanks as the home side opened up a 19-0 lead after only 13 minutes before Adam Preocanin secured the bonus point inside the first quarter with his first try for the club. And it was a score that pretty much summed up Exmouth’s afternoon.
Admittedly, the chances of bringing down the giant lock on the gallop a few metres from your try-line without a stun gun and baseball bat, are slim. But the way, four would-be Exmouth tacklers waved him through to score the softest of tries under the posts, was a sign of the carnage that was to come.
It got progressively worse for the shell-shocked visitors. With the power and physical presence of Preocanin and the outstanding Charlie Self around the fringes of ruck and maul enabling the home side to monopolise possession, they ran everything at Exmouth.
Slick interplay from the backs allowed Tom White to score two tries either side of a solo effort from Golledge who bounced his opposite number with ridiculous ease before streaking half the length of the field to score his second try as Elthamians were out of sight, 45-0 ahead by the interval.
The second half was always going to be a case of damage limitation for the Cockles, especially playing into a strong wind. But there was no let-up from the onslaught as the home side continued to run amok with some wonderful attacking rugby.
Golledge and Brown both completed hat-tricks and special mention too for Kent Under-20s winger Huw Roberts who scored a cracking try on his first team debut and produced a very assured, confident display on the left wing.
Further scores from Lespierre, George Messum and replacements Sam Waltier and Nathan Morris completed the rout, before the visitors, having been battered from pillar to post, somehow summoned the energy to finally get on the scoreboard five minutes from time with a well-worked try from centre Henry Goldson, converted from the touchline by George Meadows.
It was of little consolation for the Cockles, however, on an afternoon to forget. For Elthamians, the season has suddenly come to life again, a point off the promotion play-off place and everything to play for with four matches remaining.
Tries: Alex Brown x 3 (11, 65, 72), Lespierre x 2 (6, 56), Preocanin 19, White x 2 (21 39), Golledge x 3 (5, 28, 58) Morris 45, Roberts 47, Messum 52, Waltier 55
Cons: White x 6 (6, 11, 19, 21, 39, 47) Robinson x 5 (52, 55, 56, 58, 72)
Tries: Goldson (74)
Cons: Meadows (74)
Old Elthamians: A Brown, Lespierre, Golledge, Wilkins, Roberts, T White, Claxton, North, Rudland-Thomas, Liffchak, Preocanin, Self, Sullivan, Ledger, Messum. Replacements: L Brown, Morris, Denbee, Waltier, Robinson.
Exmouth: Cadywould, Rice, Goldson, Bedford, Downie, Meadows, Ryan, Savage, Gibbings, Brown, Fahy, Richards, Harris, Bargent, Swain. Replacements: Lendon, Taylor, Armstrong, Goldman, Kelly.
Referee: Neil Chivers
Half-time: Old Elthamians 45 Exmouth 0
Star man: Charlie Self (Old Elthamians)