Hard Knox strife for flattened OEs
Coventry winger Rob Knox scored a hat-trick of tries as Elthamians were overpowered by the runaway league leaders at a rain-lashed Butts Park Arena.
Coventry 48 Old Elthamians 13
Elthamians produced a spirited performance in the teeming rain at the Butts Park Arena, but could barely put a dent in the Coventry juggernaut on its relentless drive to the National One title.
It was a sobering experience for Gavin Lach’s men and stark evidence of just what is required if they are to fulfil their aspirations of joining the leading group of clubs in National One.
“No complaints, no excuses, we were beaten by a better side. Coventry were outstanding,” OEs Director of Rugby admitted afterwards. A painfully blunt assessment. And entirely accurate.
You could not fault OEs’ commitment or their resilience in a losing cause, but ultimately they were out-gunned and over-powered by a hugely impressive home side who made light of the wet conditions and heavy saturated pitch, to produce some impressive free-flowing rugby with the ball in hand.
It wasn’t that Elthamians were significantly below-par either, they simply suffered the misfortune of running into a Coventry side who are intent on bulldozing their way to the league title before the end of March – now a massive 30 points clear of their nearest challengers, Darlington.
Indeed, the visitors can thank their outstanding back row of George Messum, Ben King and captain Hamish Barton for keeping the score below 50. Barton, in particular, is surely in the form of his career right now, and his appetite for work around the park and willingness to get down among the flailing boots and bodies on the floor were the main reasons Elthamians were able to cling desperately to Coventry's coat-tails for half of this entertaining contest.
Barton and company battled manfully in the first half, and despite seeing little possession, were still hanging in there at half-time, 26-13 in arrears. But they were flattened after the break as Coventry ran up 22 unanswered points in a one-sided second half. And for the umpteenth time this season Elthamians were their own worst enemies.
As has been proved on countless occasions during this campaign, it is nigh on impossible to defend against National One attacks without a full compliment of players on the field, let alone against an attacking unit as predatory and incisive as Coventry’s. To lose two men to the sin bin is tough going, to lose four is verging on the ridiculous. Alex Rogers, Joe Carlisle, Harry Ledger and Ben King were all shown yellow cards for technical offences by referee Matt Turvey which left Elthamians, already with a mountain to climb, facing the rugby equivalent of standing at the bottom of a vertical rock face.
It had taken just two minutes for the home side to open their account, a strong first scrum allowed fly-half Will Maisey front foot ball to put winger Rob Knox through a gap in midfield and score under the posts.
Elthamians regrouped and hit back with two penalties in quick succession from Joe Carlisle after strong runs from Nathan Morris and Barton had taken OEs over halfway for the first time.
But the visitors were already being out-muscled in the close quarter exchanges and the powerful Coventry pack began to exert a firm grip on proceedings. They extended their lead on 19 minutes when a driven lineout in the OEs 22 took play to the visitors’ line and the ball was shipped wide for captain Heath Stevens to force his way over.
Ten minutes later, flanker Jack Preece was driven over after more good work by the home forwards, and when Coventry secured the bonus point with their fourth try on 32 minutes after Knox raced away down the right for his second score of the afternoon, you feared the worst for the visitors, trailing 26-6.
To their credit, however, OEs finally secured some ball and finished the half strongly. After Preece had been shown a yellow card for a tip tackle on King, OEs took full advantage, moving into the Coventry 22 for the first time thanks to Tom Parker’s sniping break. The ball was taken on by the forwards and after King had made the initial in-roads, lock Freddie Hosking drove over from close range for his second try in as many matches.
A timely score on the half-time whistle, but any thoughts of an unlikely OEs comeback after the break were shattered in the first 10 minutes of the second period when they lost Rogers and Carlisle to yellow cards - and Coventry were in no mood to let the visitors off the hook.
Maisey added a penalty before the home side scored the best try of the match on 56 minutes from a sweeping move that started inside their own half and ended with Knox sprinting away down the right flank to complete his hat-trick.
Behind 36-13, it was now a question of damage limitation for Elthamians and they enjoyed a promising period of possession, keeping the ball tight and building through the phases to take play to the edge of the home 22. But they never really looked like breaching the Coventry defence again and when the ball was turned over, the league leaders were quick to punish them.
National One leading try scorer James Stokes added his 18th try of the season in the right hand corner on 75 minutes after the Coventry pack had again driven into the OEs 22 before moving the ball wide, and as the tiring Elthamians forwards began to wilt under the constant pressure, resulting in yellow cards for Ledger and King, Coventry wrapped up an emphatic victory two minutes from time with a penalty try after OEs were deemed to have brought down a maul close to their try-line.
A hugely disappointing end to an afternoon to forget for the men in royal blue and gold.
Old Elthamians: Surman, Lespierre, Emmerson, Wilkins, Bennett, Carlisle, Parker, L Brown, Morris, Rogers, Self, Hosking, Messum, Barton, King. Replacements: North, Rudland-Thomas, Ledger, White, Luxford.
Half-time: Coventry 26 Old Elthamians 13
Yellow cards: Rogers, Carlisle, Ledger, King