Lew beauty! Dynamic duo inspire impressive OEs win
Dom Lespierre and Lewis Brown starred as injury-hit Elthamians held off a dramatic late Cambridge fightback to secure their third successive National One victory.
Cambridge 28 Old Elthamians 29
Two players at opposite ends of the teamsheet inspired Elthamians to their third successive National One victory in a thriller at Volac Park.
Since arriving at OEs last year Dom Lespierre has torn up the club record book. But it’s doubtful whether the flying winger has ever had a more industrious afternoon in an Elthamians shirt. He scored a hat-trick of tries – his third for the club – could have had five, and saw more of the ball here than in the previous four National One matches combined.
He frightened the life out of the Cambridge defence and came off the field at the end of this absorbing, end-to-end encounter ‘knackered’ as he put it. And justifiably so.
It would take some performance to eclipse Lespierre’s effort. And it came from the front row. Prop Lewis Brown wasn’t even due to be in the starting line-up. A last minute injury to loosehead Alex Rogers in the pre-match warm-up saw Brown called up to start. And he responded with an absolutely barnstorming display at the coalface.
Brown had the sort of afternoon front rows can only usually dream about. A rock in the set-piece, it was his phenomenal workrate around the park that caught the eye. The ball seemed to follow him like a magnet at times, and he was at the heart of much of Elthamians’ best work.
Every time OEs needed to up the tempo or make something happen, it was Brown who provided the inspiration, whether forcing a turnover with one of a string of massive hits in defence, or a barnstorming run, like an NFL running back with the ball tucked under his right arm, which twice put OEs on the front foot in the first half.
It was comfortably Brown’s finest display in three seasons in an Elthamians shirt and he needed to be at his best because the visitors were disrupted by a series of last minute changes to the starting line-up.
As well as Rogers, they also lost centre James Golledge to injury in the warm-up and a difficult start to the job in hand became progressively worse just three minutes in when lock Ian Kench, on his return to the side after a two-week absence, was led dazed from the field after taking an accidental blow to the head.
While OEs were forced into more reshuffling, Cambridge took full advantage, scrum-half Pierre Peres sniping over for the opening score on five minutes, fly-half Ben Penfold converting.
It was a dream start for Cambridge, without a win at Volac Park since November last year. But instead of galvanising the home side, it was Elthamians who proceeded to put on an opening 40 minute performance as good as any of their best last season.
Playing at a pace and precision that stunned the home side, their off-loading in the tackle and continuity was a joy to watch at times as they splintered the overworked Cambridge defence.
They levelled the scores on nine minutes. Receiving the ball on the edge of the home 22, scrum-half Sam Egerton jinked his way to within a metre of the try-line before off-loading to hooker Jay Rudland-Thomas who dived under the posts, Joe Carlisle converting.
Egerton was again the instigator as OEs took the lead on 18 minutes. His box kick, seemed to take a deflection straight into the arms of Lespierre, who wrong-footed the defence with a sudden change of direction, cut inside two would-be tacklers and set off an arcing run to the posts.
If Lespierre’s first try was good, his second and OEs’ third on 25 minutes was an absolute rip-snorter even by the paceman’s own high standards. Receiving a long pass from Carlisle midway in his own half and with apparently nothing on in front of him, the winger shrugged off his opposite number with a sudden change of pace, weaved in and out past two covering tacklers before racing 70 metres to the line.
Carlisle’s touchline conversion gave the Old Boys a 21-7 lead after half an hour and at this stage, they looked threatening every time they got the ball in their hands.
A bullocking 20-metre charge up the middle from Brown resulted in an OEs penalty midway in the Cambridge half which Carlisle pushed wide. Three minutes from the interval, Lespierre looked set for his hat-trick, breaking free down the right touchline again only to brought down by a superb try-saving tackle from Cambridge skipper Mike Ayrton which brought the biggest cheer of the afternoon from the home crowd.
A shell-shocked Cambridge would have been relieved to hear the half-time whistle. But the start of the second half continued in much the same vein.
Max Wilkins made a break down the right but was chopped down in the home 22, and Lespierre stepped his way to within a few metres of the Cambridge try-line only to be denied his hat-trick again by another try-saving tackle this time from the hugely impressive home full-back Joe Green.
But Lespierre was not to be denied and on 47 minutes he grabbed his third try – the simplest of the lot - and secured OEs the four-try bonus point in the process when he got on the end of Carlisle’s lovely long miss-pass to touch down in the corner.
Leading 26-7 after 55 minutes, Elthamians looked to have the game pretty much wrapped up so dominant were they in most areas of the game. But then we were treated to the most astonishing turnaround of a wonderfully entertaining encounter as Cambridge were a side transformed in the final quarter.
Momentum had started to swing the home side’s way when OEs were reduced to 14 men after Truman Sullivan was shown a yellow card for a high tackle on halfway.
Fourteen men quickly became 13 two minutes later, as the Cambridge pack drove the ball into the OEs 22 and battered away at the try-line. OEs No.8 Harry Ledger followed Sullivan behind the posts when he was shown a yellow card for not rolling away at the breakdown.
Sparked by the introduction of impressive young No.8 Joe Britton, the home side quickly took advantage of their extra numbers when prop Shane Moynihan crashed over from close range on 57 minutes, Penfold again converting.
Just three minutes later, the lead was cut to just five points thanks to a wonderful solo effort from the lively Green. A similar score to Lespierre’s long range effort in the first half, Green burst through a gap in the OEs defence and jinked his way from just inside his own half to the visitors’ try-line.
With OEs now in some disarray and Max Wilkins departing the field with injury, the home side could smell blood. And they attacked with gusto, spreading the ball left and right searching for gaps in the wall of white shirts.
But in a crucial 10-minute passage of play, Elthamians managed to protect their lead thanks to some last ditch defence and with just seven minutes remaining they were given some much needed breathing space when Cambridge were penalised for going off their feet at a ruck midway inside their own half. Replacement Tom White stepped up to coolly slot the three pointer and give OEs a 29-21 lead.
However, there was still time for more drama. Cambridge took the ball straight back into the OEs 22 and in the third minute of injury time, winger Oli Petrides latched on to Penfold's grubber kick to touch down under the posts. Albert Portsmouth drop-kicked the conversion to cut the gap to just one point just as referee Callum Howard blew the final whistle.
A fittingly nerve-shredding finale to a fantastically entertaining National One encounter.
Old Elthamians: Hotston, Lespierre, Moffat, Wilkins, Bennett, Carlisle, Egerton, L Brown, Rudland-Thomas, North, Preocanin, Kench, Messum, Barton, Ledger. Subs: Bevans-Royston, Morris, Sullivan, T White, Claxton.
Man of the Match: Lewis Brown
Referee: Callum Howard