Reality check for sloppy OEs
Old Elthamians were brought crashing down to earth at Molesey Road as a well drilled Esher outfit dished out a lesson in the harsh realities of life in National One.
Esher 39 Old Elthamians 14
If Gavin Lach’s men needed any reminder about the size of the challenge that awaits them this season in the third tier of English rugby, Esher provided it in bucket-loads last Saturday.
This was not the eagerly anticipated start to the new season that OEs fans hoped for, or expected if truth be told, but as a wake-up call it may yet prove to be the best thing that happens to this young Elthamians side as long as they learn important lessons, and learn them quickly, as DoR Lach admitted afterwards.
Whether it was ‘first night’ nerves or whether they were trying too hard to impress, but the Old Boys were the architects of their own demise in a hugely disjointed, error-strewn performance.
You can’t win matches if you don’t have the ball, and for much of this entertaining but scrappy encounter, Elthamians did their best to hand possession on a plate to the home side.
Thirty three unforced errors neatly sums up their afternoon, and while you could not fault the players for effort or commitment in unseasonably hot conditions, most of their good work was undone by a succession of dropped balls, loose passes and turnovers.
Everything seemed too rushed, too forced, too laboured and consequently they ended up tying themselves up in knots attempting claw their way back into the game. They also butchered two straightforward try-scoring opportunities, one in each half.
Esher, by contrast, were far more streetwise, particularly at the breakdown and played the game in the right parts of the field, dominating possession and building patiently through the phases.
They were absolutely clinical as well in capitalising on the visitors’ mistakes and picking out mis-matches in the line of white and blue shirts in front of them.
It had seemed like business as usual when winger Dom Lespierre carried on where he left off last season, giving OEs a dream start with the first try of the game from close range after only 11 minutes.
However, their joy was short-lived, as Esher, using their pack to drive the ball deep into the visitors’ territory, began to take a firm stranglehold on proceedings, stretching the OEs defence left and right in search of their first score of the new campaign.
That came on 28 minutes when the impressive midfield pairing of Niall Saunders and Joe Brown combined beautifully to put Saunders through a gap in the OEs defence and touch down by the posts, captain Paul Roberts adding the conversion.
Five minutes before the interval, rangy winger Karym Irving, who played against OEs last season for Worthing, took advantage of some woeful OEs tackling to high step his way under the posts. Roberts kicked the conversion and added a penalty to give the home side a 17-7 lead at the interval.
A disappointing end to their first half of rugby in National One, but Elthamians had shown enough in patches, especially their impressive scrum, to suggest there was everything to play for in the second period.
When Roberts added a second penalty nine minutes after the restart to extend the lead to 20-7, however, alarm bells would have started to ring on the Elthamians bench,
But showing the resilience and strength of character that was the hallmark of their performances last season, the visitors, led by the sniping, jinking Ollie Claxton at scrum-half, proceeded to enjoy their best period of the game.
And they were given more than a glimmer of hope when Claxton squirted over from close range after a series of forward drives on the hour, Joe Carlisle’s conversion reducing the deficit to just six points.
That glimmer last precisely the four minutes it took for Esher to calmly kick to the corner of OEs 22, win clean lineout ball and set up replacement scrum-half Andy Garner, who took advantage of space next to a ruck to scamper under the posts.
It was a score that knocked the stuffing out of the visitors, having worked so hard to get back into the game. And as they began to tire in the heat, the home side added two further scores in the close 10 minutes from winger Spencer Sutherland after breaking out down the left flank, and outstanding flanker Cameron Gentles going over on the blindside, to move out of sight.
Tries: Saunders (28), Irving (35), Garner (66), Sutherland (68), Gentles (77)
Pens: Roberts (22, 49)
Cons: Roberts (28,35) Davies (66, 77)
Tries: Lespierre (11) Claxton (62)
Cons: Carlisle (11, 62)
Esher: Davies, Irving, Brown, Saunders, Sutherland, Roberts, Trotter, Furey, O’Connell, Zeiss, Marriott, Edwards, Gentles, Gossington, Bone. Replacements: Leigh, Seccombe, Harding, Arnold, Garner.
Old Elthamians: Egerton, Lespierre, Moffatt, Wilkins, Golledge, Carlisle, Claxton, Rogers, Morris, North, Preocanin, Kench, Sullivan, Barton, Messum. Replacements: Bevans-Royston, Rudland-Thomas, Ledger, Robinson, Bennett.
Referee: Gareth Holsgrove
Half-time: Esher 17 Old Elthamians 7