Flying squad shoots down Barnes
A storming six-try first half performance helped OEs overcome battling Barnes and edge into the play-off picture
Barnes 27 Old Elthamians 50
Old Elthamians climbed into the all-important promotion play-off spot with just three matches of the league campaign remaining after this highly entertaining victory over Barnes in the West London sunshine.
They ran in eight tries, six of them coming in a thrilling first half display of attacking rugby, which effectively decided the contest by half-time.
While the Old Boys never quite hit the heights of the previous week’s wonderful 15-try display against Exmouth – and they were sloppy at times, particularly in the second half - there was still plenty to admire in the way they set about slicing through the home defence in the opening 40 minutes with their flying squad - the in-form back three of Dom Lespierre, Alex Brown and newcomer Huw Roberts in particularly predatory mood.
Playing off the back of a scrum that caused the Barnes pack no end of problems throughout, the OEs trio helped themselves to six of OEs' eight tries and provided the catalyst for the first half attacking onslaught.
However, the Old Boys did not have things all their own way against an abrasive and industrious Barnes side who produced a brave second half fightback to secure a vital bonus point in their battle to avoid relegation with four tries of their own.
Indeed, it was Barnes who had much the better of the opening exchanges, forcing Elthamians on the back foot and opening the scoring with a Tom O’Toole penalty after only two minutes. The visitors were penned in their own 22 early on as the home pack retained possession and battered away at the line of white shirts in front of them.
Whenever Elthamians have needed fresh impetus or someone to kickstart them into life in recent weeks, invariably Alex Brown has been the player to provide the spark. And he was at it again in West London.
The full-back made a bullocking run out of his own 22, which caught the Barnes defence napping, and fed Lespierre who juggled with the pass before suddenly sprinting clear of the covering defence to run 50 metres to the try-line.
It was a score against the run of play but it settled the visitors and for the next 30 minutes they produced some wonderful fast, and occasionally loose, attacking rugby which cut the Barnes defence to pieces.
Brown was again the focal point of OEs’ best work. He scored their second try on 11 minutes with a lovely arcing run from full-back which split the Barnes midfield and quickly followed that up seven minutes later with his second score after being putting clear down the left following an incisive burst and lovely off-load from Kent Under-20 winger Roberts.
Barnes were reeling and the visitors duly secured the bonus point with their fourth try on 25 minutes. This time it was Lespierre bursting through the Barnes midfield from a set move before feeding James Golledge on his shoulder who managed to stay on his feet and dive under the posts to score.
Leading 24-3 and playing off a dominant scrum, OEs looked threatening whenever they moved the ball wide. However, it was Barnes who clawed their way back into the game on the half hour mark when hooker Jonathan Kopra was driven over the line following a catch and drive from a five metre lineout - a tactic which the home side employed to great effect throughout the afternoon.
It was only a brief respite, however, as Elthamians scored two tries in quick succession to open up a 36-10 lead at the interval. The first came from a huge scrum in the Barnes 22 which shunted the visitors backwards allowing Tom White to kick for the corner where the outstanding Roberts was on hand to collect the high ball and dive over the line for his second try in as many matches.
Two minutes from the interval with Barnes battering away at the Elthamians try-line, a pass was dropped and Lespierre pounced on the loose ball and raced the length of the field to score under the posts.
It was a crushing blow for the home side so close to half-time, and when Lespierre duly completed his hat-trick 10 minutes after the restart following a quickly taken tapped penalty by scrum-half Ollie Claxton, the game looked done and dusted with OEs leading 43-10.
Except no one had told the Barnes forwards who took advantage of some sloppy OEs play, to launch a brave fightback.
They added their second try of the afternoon on 55 minutes when prop Hugo Milford-Scott was driven over the line from a five metre lineout and followed that up with an identical score for their other prop Bradley Packham six minutes later after Tom White had been penalised and yellow carded for killing a ruck.
When Elthamians were reduced to 13 men on the hour after Alex Brown was shown yellow for pulling down a maul, Barnes visibly grew in confidence, securing more possession and taking advantage of the extra men to probe for gaps in the visitors’ defence.
It was a strangely anticlimactic second half perfomance from OEs after the thrills of the opening 40 minutes. But to their credit they soaked up a 10-minute period of pressure from the home side and then began to take a firm stranglehold again, using their forwards to punch holes close in and patiently working through the phases.
The change in tactics paid dividends when hard working flanker Mike Denbee barged his way over for a deserved score eight minutes from time after his pack had taken play into the Barnes 22.
Chris Surman’s conversion took Elthamians to a half century of points for only the second time this season, but there was still time for Barnes to secure a vital bonus point in their battle to beat the drop when winger Robbie Martey collected a clever grubber kick and wrong-footed the OEs defence to sprint clear for a fourth home try two minutes from time.
Tries: Kopra 29 Milford-Scott 55 Packham 61 Martey 78
Pens: O'Toole 2
Cons: O'Toole 29 78
Tries: Lespierre x 3 ( 7 38 51) A Brown x 2 (11 18) Golledge 25 Roberts 35 Denbee 72
Cons: White 18 25 38 51 Surman 72
Barnes: O’Toole, Martey, Cornish, Butler, Carlisle, Davies-Williams, Reeves, Packham, Kopra, Scott-Milford, Crane, Collins, Steele, Scott, Hind. Replacements: Al Khaldi, Armitage, Chambers, Libbey, Hersey
Old Elthamians: A Brown, Lespierre, Golledge, Wilkins, Roberts, T White, Claxton, North, Rudland-Thomas, Liffchak, Pre-ocanin, Self, Denbee, Barton, Messum. Replacements: L Brown, Morris, Sullivan, Luxford, Surman.
Referee: Thomas Davis
Half-time: Barnes 10 Old Elthamians 36