Denbee leads the charge as OEs cut loose
Elthamians produced unquestionably their finest performance on the road this season to douse the fire of a tough Cinderford side.
Cinderford 12 Old Elthamians 55
The emphatic seven-try victory saw the Old Boys break the 1,000 point barrier for the season for the first time in their history and more importantly secure the crucial bonus point which left them just one game away from a potential place in the play-off on May 6th.
Make no mistake, this was a mighty all-round effort from OEs in a game of such high stakes and in energy-sapping conditions against a side as dangerous and physically imposing as Cinderford.
The Foresters will be scratching their heads at how they managed to enjoy so much possession and territory, yet still crashed to their heaviest home league defeat in more than 10 years. But they were undone by an Elthamians side who were absolutely ruthless with the ball in hand, and who defended superbly throughout.
In a season which has seen some wonderful attacking rugby, it’s sometimes over-looked just how impressive OEs’ suffocating defensive effort, orchestrated by coach Aaron Liffchak, has been.
They have conceded the fewest points in National Two South this season and, given the sweltering conditions, rock hard pitch and bruising physical intensity throughout, the defence did a wonderful job again.
At the heart of Elthamians’ very best work were two tireless individual performances. Scrum-half Ollie Claxton must be a defender’s worst nightmare. A constant blur of perpetual motion, buzzing around the fringes of ruck and maul and making a thorough nuisance of himself, he drove Cinderford to distraction all afternoon.
But even Claxton’s performance was eclipsed by a display of astonishing intensity and commitment from Mike Denbee (pictured), taking over the No.8 shirt from the injured Harry Ledger.
He scored two tries and won his fair share of line-out ball, but it was his work rate and tackle count that caught the eye. They should christen him ‘Jukebox’ because the hits kept on coming - all afternoon. Whenever the powerful Cinderford ball carriers had built some momentum, invariably they were cut down by a big Denbee tackle.
The former London Welsh flanker had to be at his best as well because Cinderford came storming out of the blocks with wave after wave of attacks in the opening exchanges. It must have alarmed the tremendous Elthamians support who had made the three-hour journey to the Forest of Dean, especially when the home side opened the scoring after only two minutes when prop George Porter was driven over the line by his pack.
Led by Denbee, however, the wall of yellow and blue shirts absorbed the early onslaught and slowly began to force turnovers allowing fly-half Tom White to reduce the deficit to one point with two well struck penalties.
After a shaky opening quarter, the visitors began to monopolise possession and territory but could find no way through an aggressive and hard-working Cinderford rearguard. However, the match turned in the space of five minutes midway through the half when the home side lost centre Sam Goatley and winger Will Baldwin in quick succession to yellow cards for deliberate infringements at the breakdown.
Elthamians were quick to take advantage of the extra men and stunned the home side with three converted tries in the space of five minutes.
They took the lead on 25 minutes when winger Huw Roberts made a decisive break down the left flank before slipping an inside pass to the league’s leading try scorer Dom Lespierre on his shoulder for a clear run to the line.
Two minutes later, the visitors struck again. Roberts was again involved, collecting an awkward bouncing ball that the Cinderford defence had failed to hold on to with the sun in their eyes, before sending an overhead pass to Denbee in support who in turn fed Truman Sullivan for a try under the posts.
Try number three came on the half hour mark thanks to excellent work from Claxton who took a quick tap penalty in the home 22 and fed Denbee who barged his way over from close range.
It completed a remarkable turnaround in the fortunes of both sides with Elthamians now looking to have taken a firm stronghold, leading 27-7.
The Foresters had other ideas, however, and had the last word of an entertaining first period when hooker Sam Baker emerged from under a pile of bodies after another strong drive from the Cinderford pack to reduce the deficit to 27-12 at the interval.
After the excitement of the opening 40 minutes, the start of the second half was a scrappy, mistaken-ridden affair with Elthamians pinned in their own 22 and forced into a reshuffle out wide with the loss of influential full-back Alex Brown with a leg injury.
With the visitors still in desperate need of the all-important fourth try for the bonus point, inspiration was needed. And it came from the replacements bench.
Freddie Hosking, Aston Bevans-Royston, Nathan Morris, Will Robinson and Renford Bennett were all on the field within 10 minutes of the restart, and they all made significant contributions as OEs raised the tempo once more.
Much to the relief of the travelling supporters, the crucial fourth try finally arrived on 60 minutes. And it came from an unlikely source. Replacement lock Freddie Hosking, making his first appearance for the 1st XV since the defeat at Chinnor in November, was both the instigator and finisher.
His galloping run in midfield took Elthamians into home territory for pretty much the first time in the second half and won a much needed penalty which White kicked to the corner. Cinderford infringed again from the resulting catch and drive at the lineout and again White kicked for the corner. This time, the forwards were able to drive Hosking over the line for the try.
With OEs 34-12 ahead, the bonus point duly secured and the pressure off, they started to cut loose. Just three minutes later, Denbee scored his second try, rescuing an overthrown lineout in the home 22 before jinking his way to the line. Then a bullocking run from replacement hooker Nathan Morris sent Lespierre racing clear for his second try with 10 minutes remaining.
It was fitting that OEs’ seventh and final try to round off a memorable afternoon in the sun came from the livewire Claxton on 75 minutes. Another attempted catch and drive from a lineout was brought down short of the Cinderford line, but the scrum-half was able to recycle the ball quickly and stretch one arm over the line.
Old Elthamians: A Brown, Lespierre, Golledge, Wilkins, Roberts, White, Claxton, Liffchak, Rudland-Thomas, North, Messum, Preocanin, Sullivan, Barton (capt), Denbee. Replacements: Bevans-Royston, Morris, Hosking, Robinson, Bennett.
Referee: James Clarke
Half-time: Cinderford 12 Old Elthamians 27