Late try sinks sloppy OEs
The battle of the top two Old Boys sides in England ended in narrow defeat for Elthamians who were stunned by a try five minutes from time.
Old Elthamians 29 Old Albanian 34
The warning signs had been there during the previous weeks’ victories over Hull and Birmingham.
But at a sun-drenched College Meadow on Saturday, Elthamians paid the penalty for a performance consistent only for its inconsistency.
At times, they looked exceptional especially when they moved the ball at pace. But they were strangely reticent in the opening stages and despite a purple patch at the start of the second half, their execution let them down at crucial moments and they were sunk by a try five minutes from time.
Albanian in contrast, started and finished this game in the ascendancy, were quick to punish Elthamian mistakes and ultimately ran out deserved winners.
In a dramatic end to an eight-try thriller, in which the lead changed hands six times, Albanian captain Ross Hamilton crashed over from close range to secure a vital win for the visitors in their bid to climb out of the relegation zone.
OEs found themselves 13-0 down in the open quarter as Albanian came roaring out of the blocks. With the outstanding openside Harry Elbrow a study in perpetual motion at the breakdown, the visitors monopolised possession, patiently built through the phases and waited for Elthamians to either infringe or make a mistake.
They did both early on and fly-half Tom Bednall, who enjoyed an outstanding afternoon with the boot, kicked two penalties and added the conversion to a try by flanker Alex Post who forced his way over in the corner after good work from his forwards.
The game was 22 minutes old before Elthamians launched an attack of note in the Albanian 22 and they scored from it. Tom White kicked a penalty to the corner and from the ensuing driven lineout No.8 Ben King crashed over, White converting superbly from the touchline.
The score galvanised OEs and just five minutes later they took the lead for the first time with a near identical effort to their first score. White’s kick to the corner, George Messum’s lineout catch and this time, hooker Nathan Morris was driven over the line, White again converting.
However, it was Albanian who were to have the last word of the half when their forwards drove to within a few metres of the try-line, the ball was moved wide for full-back Nick Foster who managed to twist and turn in the tackle and was then driven over by his forwards.
Behind 20-14 at the interval, it was Elthamians who came out all guns blazing at the start of the second half on the back of a dominant scrum and an increasingly influential forward pack.
White reduced the deficit to three points on 47 minutes after the Albanian scrum had been reduced to rubble and then set up Elthamians’ third try with a delightful piece of skill on 54 minutes when he scooped up a loose Albanian pass off the turf and in the same movement fed winger James Golledge who raced away down the right touchline to score.
Just when it looked as though momentum had swung firmly the way of the home side, Elbrow took matters into own hands to regain the lead for Albanian. From a scrum five metres from the OEs line on 62 minutes, the OEs pack got the shunt on and looked to have averted the danger. But the Albanian flanker retrieved the ball from the base of the scrum and somehow managed to force his way down the narrow side and over in the corner.
With the visitors now leading 27-22, this see-saw encounter took yet another twist just five minutes later when Golledge, Chris Surman and Kieran Moffat combined cleverly up the narrow side of a ruck just inside the Albanian half, to release Ollie Claxton who scampered clear of the covering defenders to score.
With OEs holding a narrow 29-27 lead entering a nervous final 10 minutes, it was still anyone’s game. But it was Albanian who seized the initiative and held their nerve to grab the match-winning score on 75 minutes.
Replacement Morgan Thompson burst round the front of a lineout in the home 22 which caught the OEs defence napping before passing inside to Hamilton his captain. The big lock was not going to be denied just a couple of metres from the try-line as he dived over. Bednall capped a fine performance by slotting the conversion and left Elthamians to wonder what might have been.
Tries: King (22), Morris (27), Golledge (54), Claxton (66)
Pen: White (47)
Cons: White x 3 (23, 28, 67)
Tries: Post (17), Foster (38), Elbrow (61), Hamilton (75)
Pens: Bednall x 2 (3, 14)
Cons: Bednall x 4 (18,39, 62, 76)
Old Elthamians: Surman, Golledge, Moffat, Wilkins, Bennett, White, Claxton, L Brown, Morris, Rogers, Preocanin, Self, Messum, Denbee, King. Replacements: Fordham, Devine, Munnelly, Parker, Emmerson.
Old Albanian: Foster, Bridger, Deane, White, Dowsett, Bednall, Daly, Hughes, Walliker, Reed, Hamilton, Edwards-Bailey, Post, Elbrow, Lunnon. Replacements: Martinez, McCallum, Dodd, Brown, Thompson.
Referee: Philip Davies
Half-time: Old Elthamians 14 Old Albanian 20