Freddie’s a Rock star as OEs hold their nerve
Elthamians withstood a storming second half comeback by Rosslyn Park to edge a 10-try thriller in West London.
Rosslyn Park 29 Old Elthamians 36
OEs supporters have grown accustomed in recent weeks to watching their side come up with new ways of taking games to the wire.
And on their first visit to the Rock, a ground steeped in British rugby history, on an unexpectedly glorious afternoon in West London, Elthamians once again put the travelling faithful through the ringer before edging this 10-try thriller.
Indeed, the final scoreline doesn’t truly do justice to a game which saw an astonishing and dramatic swing in momentum in the second half.
After 50 minutes of this enthralling encounter, the outcome seemed a formality. Elthamians were leading 36-8, and deservedly so, after a 30-minute spell of rugby as good as any they have produced this season. They had monopolised possession and territory, were dominant in the set piece, and in Freddie Hosking they had the game’s outstanding player.
The former Exeter University lock produced easily his finest performance in an Elthamians shirt. A marauding and physical presence around the park and a pivotal figure at the lineout and restarts, Hosking enjoyed a memorable afternoon in the Elthamians engine room.
Yet, the game then took a sudden and dramatic twist as battling Park produced such a sustained and thrilling fightback with three tries in the final 20 minutes that by the end OEs were left hanging on grimly for dear life and mightily relieved to hear the final whistle.
It was a nerve-racking finale to a match which had been played at a fast and furious pace from the first whistle and it was the home side who started the brighter of the two sides. They took an early 3-0 lead after only three minutes with an Ollie Grove penalty after the Elthamians backline had stepped up too quickly.
The visitors’ reply was immediate. The lighthouse Hosking leapt highest to win the restart, the ball was recycled to Lewis Brown standing in midfield and the prop charged unopposed through the heart of the Park midfield to gallop over from 20 metres out.
It was about the only time Elthamians had a sniff off the ball in the opening 15 minutes and it was only a brief respite as back came Park again to regain the lead when centre Andrew Henderson collected a loose ball in midfield and scuttled through a hesitant defence to score by the posts.
It could have been a lot worse for OEs – the home side should have added a second try shortly afterwards when industrious captain and No.8 Hugo Ellis dropped the ball with the line at his mercy, and Grove, who enjoyed an otherwise excellent afternoon, missed a straightforward penalty attempt.
The visitors would live to regret not capitalising on their early good work as for the remainder of the half they were left chasing shadows.
Having got to grips with the fast pace of the 3G pitch and sparked by a dominant scrum and the work of second row duo Hosking and Adam Preocanin in the open spaces, Elthamians suddenly burst into life. They unleashed a devastating spell of attacking rugby as good as any they have produced this season which took them out of sight before half-time.
Their ball-carriers in the forwards began to make serious in-roads with the ball in hand, taking play into the Park 22. From a five metre scrum on 23 minutes, the OEs pack shunted the Park eight back over their own line for No.8 Ben King to touch down.
Three minutes later, Elthamians scored a third try and comfortably their best of the afternoon thanks to a wonderful piece of skill from fly-half Joe Carlisle which was worth the admission price on its own.
Hosking started the move from inside his own half with a barnstorming run which levelled one would-be Park tackler and created space for second row partner Preocanin to continue the charge up the left flank. When he was eventually brought down, the ball was moved wide to Carlisle who wrong-footed the Park defence with a sublime off-load behind his back to Max Wilkins which suddenly changed the direction of the attack and created a gaping hole in the defence for the centre to burst through.
Carlisle’s conversion gave Elthamians a commanding 19-8 lead and they duly secured the four-try bonus point on the half hour mark. A succession of forward drives took play to the home line before the ball was released wide right for Dom Lespierre to dart over in the corner.
When James Golledge marked his return to the side by racing down the blindside of a ruck to score a fifth try two minutes from half-time, Elthamians were 31-8 ahead and in total control.
Indeed it looked simply a question of how many the visitors would score after the interval when lock Hosking grabbed a try his performance so richly deserved just four minutes after the restart, touching down from a driven lineout in the Park 22. At this stage, beleaguered Park 36-8 in arrears, demolished in the scrum and with next to no possession to work with, looked dead and buried.
Then suddenly the transformation. And no-one in the ground could have foreseen such a sudden and dramatic shift.
It started on 54 minutes when the home side, finally securing much needed possession, pulled a score back when lively replacement wing Oliver Hassel-Collins forced his way over in the right hand corner after good work from his pack, Grove converting superbly from the touchline.
When OEs were reduced to 14 men three minutes later after centre George Emmerson was rightly shown a yellow card for a high tackle in midfield, the first signs of uncertainty and frustration began to creep into the visitors’ performance and Rosslyn Park were quick to seize the initiative, sparked by the tireless work of backrow brothers Arthur and Hugo Ellis.
Grove kicked the resulting penalty to the OEs 22 and from the lineout, No.8 Hugo Ellis was driven over for the try. Grove converted the extras and suddenly the home side and the crowd could sense that the comeback was on.
Hassel-Collins was denied what looked a certain second try after a wonderful try-saving tackle by replacement prop Elliot Roofe, and the dangerous home back-line began to stretch the overworked Elthamians defence.
By this point, Park were in command, working the ball patiently through the phases. And on 68 minutes, they made the breakthrough, cutting the OEs’ lead to just one converted score. From another driven lineout in the OEs 22, the ball was moved wide for centre Dan Barnes to force his way over from close range.
Elthamians had a chance to gain some breathing space when they were awarded a penalty midway in home territory shortly afterwards, but Tom White pushed his kick wide and for the final 10 minutes the visitors were forced to soak up wave after wave of Park attacks.
In the dying moments, the home side won a penalty midway in the OEs half, Grove again elected to kick to the corner. But the expected catch and drive could not make any headway as the Old Boys showed how proficient they have become in recent weeks at goal-line stands. The wall of yellow and blue shirts stood firm to secure Elthamians their 13th win of the season.
Tries: Henderson (10), Hassel-Collins (54), Ellis (58), Barnes (68)
Pen: Grove (3)
Cons: Grove (55, 59, 69)
Tries: L Brown (4) King (23) Wilkins (26), Lespierre (33), Golledge (37), Hosking (44)
Cons: Carlisle (24, 27, 34)
Rosslyn Park: Robinson, Crane, Henderson, Barnes, Amesbury, Grove, Gash; Nwakor, Gibson, Lovell, Spencer, Frampton, MacFarlane, Ovens, Ellis. Replacements; Vaughan-Edwards, Wade, Macpherson, Crow, Hassel-Collins.
Old Elthamians: Surman, Lespierre, Emmerson, Wilkins, Golledge, Carlisle, Claxton, L Brown, Rudland-Thomas, Rogers, Preocanin, Hosking, Messum, Barton, King. Replacements: Roofe, Morris, Ledger, White, Parker.
Referee: George Selwood
Half-time: Rosslyn Park 8 Old Elthamians 31