Elthamians ended their first ever National One campaign the way it began, with a disappointing and comprehensive defeat to Esher.
Old Elthamians 0 Esher 30
‘A game too far’ was how Director of Rugby Gavin Lach described it afterwards and on the evidence of this weary, error-strewn performance, the summer break cannot come soon enough for Elthamians.
It has been a memorable first season in National One in every sense for Lach’s men who have punched well above their weight and exceeded all expectations to secure a deserved sixth place finish.
But it has also been an arduous slog at times, adjusting to the increased demands and week-in, week-out intensity of life in National One. There had been signs in the last month that momentum had slowed and there was not much left in the tank. And on a predictably grey and damp afternoon at College Meadow, OEs finally spluttered to a halt, the campaign ending the way it had begun - with an emphatic defeat at the hands of a streetwise Esher side who had far too much nous in pretty much every department.
As they have done all season, Elthamians competed manfully up front and their defence, especially in the first 40 minutes when they had little possession, was outstanding. But they lacked precision with the ball in hand and rarely threatened to breach the Esher line, committing far too many unforced errors and needless silly penalties on the few occasions they threatened to get a foothold in the game.
It was the first time they had failed to trouble the scoreboard in six seasons of National League rugby and well before the end, they had run out of ideas as to how to breach the wall of black shirts.
Esher, in contrast, were thoroughly good value for their win. Inspired by outstanding hooker and captain Billy Harding who was at the heart of much of their best work around the park, the visitors pack took a firm stranglehold on proceedings from the first whistle as OEs were forced on the backfoot early on.
Both sides struggled to establish any continuity in a scrappy opening 40 minutes punctuated by a series of penalties and unforced errors, Esher taking a 3-0 interval lead courtesy of a Basil Strang penalty.
With little to separate the two sides in the first half, Elthamians started the second half brightly, in similar fashion to their early second half revival against Blackheath the previous week.
However, when Esher scrum-half Andy Garner extended the lead with the first try of the game on 47 minutes, darting over from a quickly taken penalty, it seemed to knock the stuffing out of the Old Boys.
Winger Joe Beckett added a second try just two minutes later after tapping a high kick back before collecting the loose ball and sprinting away up the right flank to score. Fly-half Paul Roberts added a penalty and when winger Cal Monks latched on to Roberts’ crossfield kick to score on 69 minutes, the visitors were out of sight, leading 25-0.
To add insult to injury, in the closing minutes OEs flanker Mike Denbee was shown a yellow card for slapping the ball down as Garner went to move the ball from the base of a ruck in the home 22. Esher kicked the resulting penalty to the corner and from the lineout, replacement Cam Leigh prop put the seal on a dominant second half display from the visitors when he charged down the narrow side to score.
Tries: Garner (47), Beckett (50), Monks (69), Leigh (78)
Pens: Strang (34) Roberts (67)
Cons: Strang (48), Roberts (70)
Old Elthamians: Surman, Lespierre, Moffat, Wilkins, Bennett, Carlisle, Claxton, L Brown, Morris, North, Preocanin, King, Messum, Barton (capt), Ledger. Replacements: Roofe, Rudland-Thomas, Denbee, Parker, White.
Esher: Davies, Beckett, Brown, Strang, Monks, Roberts, Garner; Furey, Harding (capt), Zeiss, Edwards, Seccombe, Gentles, Gossington, Whitehurst. Replacements: Leigh, Lowes, Collins, Arnold, Trotter.
Referee: Jack Lewars
Half-time: Old Elthamians 0 Esher 3