OEs cling on to resist Caldy fightback
For the second successive week, Elthamians shredded the nerves of their supporters, holding off a late Caldy onslaught to clinch their fourth win in a row.
Old Elthamians 23 Caldy 21
In an incident-packed encounter which saw seven tries, some wonderful attacking rugby and six yellow cards, the Old Boys just about deserved their victory on the strength of a blistering opening half hour and an impressive 10-minute period at the start of the second half.
Yet, in a classically clichéd game of two halves, Caldy will feel that had the game gone on for just a few minutes more, the outcome would have been very different.
While Elthamians’ vastly improved form after a tentative start to their first ever National One campaign is beyond doubt, there is still much work to do. Head coach Sam Howard was bitterly disappointed with their second half display - having worked so hard to move into a commanding 23-7 lead after 50 minutes, they almost contrived to throw it away with some ineffectual defence and an inability to hang on to possession.
That should not detract from an impressive second half display by the visitors. They have a powerful, well drilled front five and pace and trickery in abundance out wide. And for the last quarter of this pulsating clash they had Elthamians hanging on grimly for dear life.
But the Wirral side were left to rue a sluggish opening which saw Elthamians race into an early 15-0 lead. Indeed the home side were given a dream start virtually from the kick off when fly-half Tom White broke the Caldy line and kicked ahead, regathering to feed Dom Lespierre for a try after only 20 seconds.
The Old Boys played at a blistering tempo early on which Caldy struggled to live with, resulting in a second score on 11 minutes when lock Tom Scorgie crashed over from close range.
Full-back Chris Surman added a third on 24 minutes, receiving a long pass from Sam Egerton’s quickly taken free kick in front of the Caldy posts to go over on the right.
At this stage, Elthamians were dominant and it was a particularly frustrating period for the visitors, stung by a succession of penalties which left them scratching their heads in bemusement and which clearly disrupted their rhythm. They lost prop Derek Salisbury, flanker JJ Dickinson and lock Nick Gray to the sin bin and spent the majority of the opening 40 minutes at least one man down.
To their credit, however, they finished the first half strongly and were rewarded when fly-half Rhys Hayes, impressive throughout, sped through a gap in the Elthamian midfield and raced under the posts.
Leading 15-7 at the interval, it was Elthamians who came quickest out of the blocks after the restart. White added a penalty on 43 minutes after the Caldy scrum collapsed and when the fly-half touched down after finishing off a break from Joe Carlisle who was quickest to react to a dropped pass on 49 minutes, the home side had moved into a commanding 23-7 lead.
However, there was plenty of drama to come in a nerve-shredding final quarter as now the home side incurred the wrath of referee Daniel Collins. First Adam Preocanin was shown a yellow card on 59 minutes for a shoulder charge at a ruck, then No.8 Harry Ledger followed him to the bin a few minutes later after a technical offence at the breakdown.
The Caldy pack took the game by the scruff of the neck and camped in the OEs 22, only to be denied what looked a certain score when winger Nick Royle was smashed into the corner flag by a brilliant try-saving tackle from Surman.
The pressure had to tell, however, and on 67 minutes Caldy were awarded a penalty try when OEs were adjudged to have deliberately pulled down a maul metres from their own line. To compound their problems, prop Stefan North became the third Elthamian to be shown a yellow card.
Down to 12 men, Elthamians were forced to defend for their lives in the final 10 minutes as the visitors spread the ball wide to the outstanding Royle at every opportunity. The England Sevens winger caused problems for the home defence all afternoon and eight minutes from time, he streaked away down the right touchline, cut inside and then beat the covering defence to score a wonderful individual try under the posts. Ben Jones converted to cut OEs’ lead to just two points.
Calm heads were called for in a frantic and tense final eight minutes. Elthamians managed to secure good lineout ball and took play into the visitors’ 22, but were penalised as they tried to run the clock down. With one last throw of the dice, Caldy tried to run the ball out of their 22 but the Elthamians rearguard held firm, the ball was bundled into touch and the collective sigh of relief around College Meadow was audible.
Tries: Lespierre (1), Scorgie (10) Surman (21), White (49)
Pens: White (43)
Tries: Hayes (32), Penalty Try (64), Royle (70)
Cons: Jones x 2 (32, 70)
Old Elthamians: Surman, Lespierre, Moffat, Carlisle, Bennett, T White, Egerton, Rogers, Rudland-Thomas, North, Preocanin, Scorgie, Messum, Barton, Ledger. Replacements: Fordham, Morris, Sullivan, Claxton, Hotston.
Caldy: Dixon, Royle, Banks, Othuha, Jones, Hayes, Pilgrim, Parker, Whitaker, Salisbury, Gray, Sanders (capt), Crowe, Dickinson, Cross. Replacements: Davidson, Gerrard, Doyle, Gosling, Collister.
Referee: Daniel Collins
Half-time: Old Elthamians 15 Caldy 7