OEs left to regret slow start
Elthamians' first ever National One match at College Meadow ended in narrow defeat to old rivals Bishop's Stortford, despite a strong second half fightback.
Old Elthamians 13 Bishop’s Stortford 19
Elthamians are still searching for their first National One victory and although they are a long way from replicating their form of last season, this was a major improvement on the Esher defeat.
That said, Gavin Lach and his coaching staff must be sick of the sight of a Bishop’s Stortford side who once again showed the consistency, industry and full blooded tenacity that have been their hallmark in recent seasons to edge another tense, hard fought encounter between the two sides.
Stortford started superbly, looking every inch an established National One outfit, forced a pace that OEs struggled to live with early on and opened up a 9-0 lead after 20 minutes thanks to three penalties from the boot of fly-half George Cullen.
During the early exchanges Elthamians barely had their hands on the ball, forced instead into conceding a string of penalties in quick succession as the visitors used their big strike runners to punch holes close to the fringes, retain possession and wait for the home side to slip-up.
OEs were strangely reticent in defence in the opening quarter, missing first up tackles and allowing Stortford the freedom of the gain-line. It wasn’t until the 24th minute that they managed to launch their first worthwhile attack deep in the visitors’ half. And very much against the run of play, they scored from it.
After an initial break by Max Wilkins, fly-half Joe Carlisle’s long mis-pass found winger James Golledge who forced his way over in the corner.
It was only a brief respite, however, as Stortford hit back immediately. A series of strong drives by the visitors pack following a searing break by full-back Nick Hankin, took them into the home 22 where prop Will Roberts was on hand to crash over for a converted try.
As the heavens opened over College Meadow, so OEs took advantage of a Stortford handling mistake and a flat pass from Carlisle put Golledge clear again. Although he was brought down inside the visitors 22, the OEs pack drove towards the line where Stortford wing Cameron Ives was penalised for a deliberate offside and shown a yellow card.
The Old Boys went for touch and drove the resulting lineout over the line for a second unconverted try on 37 minutes, captain Hamish Barton coming up with the ball.
When Carlisle kicked a penalty in first half injury time to cut the deficit to just three points, Stortford must have wondered just how they found themselves only 16-13 ahead despite having dominated territory and possession in the opening 40 minutes.
Elthamians showed greater urgency after the restart, but it was the 14-man visitors who secured the early possession and extended their lead to six points with Cullen’s fourth penalty on 50 minutes.
It was to prove a decisive score, and a timely one at that, because as the game became scrappy and fragmented in the difficult conditions, so momentum began to swing the home side’s way.
They applied pressure to the Stortford runners on the gain-line, capitalised on their mistakes and now securing plenty of possession, camped in and around the visitors’ 22 for long periods of the half.
But despite patiently building through the phases and, in one 10-minute passage of play, repeatedly hammering away at the visitors’ line, they could find no way through some superb Stortford defence.
The Old Boys thought they had finally breached the wall of red shirts on 66 minutes when their pack drove under the posts, but referee James Clarke rightly adjudged two OEs forwards had moved in front of the ball carrier and the score was disallowed.
Elthamians continued to probe and poke away at the visitors’ defence but with little success. When they were penalised at the scrum after a break by flanker George Messum had taken play deep into the Stortford 22 in the closing five minutes, their final chance had gone and the visitors were able to work through the phases and run down the clock to claim a narrow win.
Tries: Golledge (24), Barton (35)
Pens: Carlisle (39)
Tries: Roberts (31)
Pens: Cullen x 4 (8,12,21, 50)
Cons: Cullen (31)
Old Elthamians: Egerton, Lespierre, Moffatt, Wilkins, Golledge, Carlisle, Claxton, Rogers, Morris, North, Preocanin, Kench, Messum, Barton, King. Replacements: Bevans-Royston, Rudland-Thomas, Sullivan, Robinson, Bennett.
Bishop’s Stortford: Hankin, Ives, Winter, Scantlebury, Hutler, Cullen, Banks; Roberts, Caulfield, McCrone, George, Tomlinson, Leo, Wilson, Ball. Replacements: Young, Brunger, Apperley, Rea, Patton
Referee: James Clarke
Half-time: Old Elthamians 13 Bishop’s Stortford 16
Star man: Declan Caulfield (Bishop’s Stortford)