Mowden misery for battling OEs
Elthamians slipped to their second successive National One defeat despite a brave second half comeback at a rain-soaked College Meadow.
Old Elthamians 14 Darlington Mowden Park 19
Elthamians came within a score of completing a brave second half fightback against a powerful Darlington side on a miserable, wet afternoon at College Meadow.
Instead, they had to settle for a losing bonus point and swallow a large dose of ‘what might have been’ as the visitors weathered the storm to record their seventh successive victory and keep up the pressure on leaders Coventry at the top of the table.
There was much to admire about OEs’ performance after the break. Behind 19-8, they kept possession well in the treacherous conditions and forced the visitors on the back foot for much of the half. It was the first time Darlington had failed to get on the scoreboard in a half of rugby so far this season as OEs, with captain Hamish Barton enjoying another outstanding game around the park, harried and harassed them to distraction.
In the final reckoning, however, Elthamians will look back on this game as a massively missed opportunity. Despite dominating possession after the interval, they struggled to find a way past an impressive Darlington defence, and on the few occasions they did threaten the try-line in the closing moments, unforced errors were to prove their downfall.
The damage had been done in the first half. And OEs head coach Sam Howard must have felt like banging his head against the first available brick wall on the way to the dressing rooms at half-time.
Having spoken repeatedly in recent weeks about the importance of keeping 15 players on the park, he could only look on in disbelief as Elthamians had two players shown yellow cards in the space of two minutes midway through the opening 40 minutes.
To their credit, the Old Boys, in a gutsy display of damage limitation, only conceded one score with 13 men on the field. But in a league campaign of such fine margins, that five points was to ultimately prove the difference between the two sides. It also swung momentum firmly the way of the visitors in the first period and left Elthamians playing catch-up for the rest of this bruising and hard fought encounter.
OEs had started well, taking a fourth minute lead through a Joe Carlisle penalty after they had shunted back the opposition pack at scrum time.
However, the powerful Darlington forwards served notice of what was to come just four minutes later. They kicked a penalty to the corner and following a strong catch and drive, prop Alfie Barron was driven over, fly-half Warren Seals missing a difficult conversion.
Darlington began to take a firm stranglehold on proceedings, securing the majority of possession and looking full of intent and purpose whenever they moved the ball wide. However, the Elthamians defence held firm until they picked up the two yellow cards on 18 and 20 minutes.
First hooker Nathan Morris was sin-binned in a marginal call, for taking out full-back Grant Connon in the air. Then prop Alex Rogers joined him on the sidelines two minutes later for slapping his opposite number across the face after an initial altercation, in front of the assistant referee.
Down to 13 men, Elthamians withstood the immediate assault on their line by the Darlington forwards but were unable to prevent fly-half Brett Connon’s delicate chip to the corner which was collected by winger Callum Mackenzie to slide over in the left corner in the 27th minute.
The home side clawed their way back into the game and were rewarded with a try on 33 minutes. A long range penalty attempt by Carlisle fell short of the posts but the visitors knocked on. From the resulting scrum, Elthamians battered away at the try-line before the ball was swiftly moved down the line for winger James Golledge to force his way over by the corner flag for his third try in as many games.
Darlington’s response was instant and emphatic. Another kick to the corner, another strong surge from the resulting lineout and hooker Chris Wood forced his way over. Seals again nailed the conversion to give the visitors a 19-8 lead at half-time which they fully deserved on the balance of play.
The second half was a different story entirely, however, as Elthamians came storming out of the blocks after the break. In a half of few clear-cut try-scoring chances, Carlisle chipped away at the Darlington lead with two penalties to reduce the deficit to just five points and in a frenetic final 10 minutes OEs penned the visitors in their own 22.
Three times, OEs were awarded penalties which were kicked to the corner by Carlisle. And three times exceptional Darlington defence forced a turnover. In the final minute, the Elthamians forwards hammered away at the try-line before the ball was spread wide right where lock Freddie Hosking, who enjoyed an impressive afternoon, saw the ball spill out of his hands as he was tackled a couple of metres from the try-line. Darlington were able to boot the ball over the deadball line as the final whistle blew.
Tries: Golledge (33)
Pen: Carlisle x 3 (4, 45, 61)
Tries: Barron (8), MacKenzie (27), Wood (36)
Cons: Seals (28, 37)
Old Elthamians: Surman, A Brown, Moffat, Wilkins, Golledge, Carlisle, Claxton, L Brown, Morris, Rogers, Preocanin, Hosking, Messum, Barton, King. Replacements: Roofe, Rudland-Thomas, Ledger, White, Parker.
Darlington: G Connon, Radwan, Frankland, Seals, MacKenzie, B Connon, Dawson, Barron, Wood, Payne, Brady, Vaioletti, Fisher, Craggs, Hodgson. Subs: Appleby, Preston-Routledge, Law, McCartney, Cowell.
Referee: Alexander Thomas
Yellow cards: Morris (18), Rogers (20)
Half-time: Old Elthamians 8 Darlington 19