Floody hell for OEs as Ampthill pack rain supreme
Torrential rain and a strong wind ensured it was a long Good Friday for Elthamians who went down to a powerful Ampthill side in their rearranged National One clash.
Old Elthamians 6 Ampthill 18
College Meadow has seen some wet days so far this season but none to compare to this.
Elthamians were sent splashing to defeat in this rearranged National One contest that bore more resemblance to water polo at times than rugby.
With one corner of the pitch virtually submerged and surface water appearing all over the turf as the rain teemed down all afternoon, both sets of players would have been far more effective in snorkels and flippers rather than boots.
Indeed at times, the game threatened to descend into a lottery as every tackle, forward charge or stumbled step was engulfed in an accompanying spray of water off the saturated College Meadow turf.
At one point midway through an attritrional first half, poor old Renford Bennett out on the Elthamians left wing attempted to put on the afterburners up the touchline and found himself aqua-planing some three metres into touch and beyond.
Frankly, with the constant deluge combined with the plummeting temperature and a stiff wind, both sets of players deserve massive credit for the way they set about their task in the worst conditions in recent memory without succumbing to hypothermia.
In the first game between the two sides at Dillingham Park back in November, the powerful Ampthill forwards took a suffocating stranglehold early on so that OEs were always playing catch-up, despite securing plenty of possession.
And they came out of the blocks quickly again the second time round, adapting far better early on to the conditions. For the first half hour of this hard fought contest, the Ampthill pack produced a near flawless display of controlled wet weather rugby. In a physical and uncompromising battle up front, they secured the lion’s share of possession, kept risks to a minimum and allowed fly-half Lawrence Rayner to put the ball in the right areas of the pitch so that the home side had to rebuild from deep.
Elthamians got off to the worse possible start when they conceded a try after only two minutes, Ampthill flanker Joe Bercis charging down Joe Carlisle’s first attempted clearance of the game to touch down by the posts.
James Pritchard converted the extra points and then added a penalty on 14 minutes after OEs were penalised for going off their feet at a ruck, although frankly it was a minor miracle how any of the players could stay on their feet given the treacherous conditions.
Pritchard added a second penalty on 22 minutes when Elthamians were penalised for boring in at the scrum and at this point the home side seemed set for a long, frustrating afternoon.
To their credit, however, the OEs pack, sparked by the work in the loose of industrious hooker Nathan Morris, began to force their way in to the game. For the final 10 minutes of the half they camped in the Ampthill 22, recycling the ball through phase after phase to bombard the try-line with a series of forward drives that were held up short by superb Ampthill defence. The home side had to be content with a solitary Joe Carlisle penalty before the break.
Elthamians continued the second half the way they finished the first with their forwards, despite having lost Morris, Adam Preocanin and Harry Ledger to injury, dominating possession.
Carlisle added a second penalty on 45 minutes to reduce the deficit to seven points and the OEs continued to throw everything at the visitors but could find no way through the inpenetrable wall of black shirts.
The turning point came on 63 minutes when Elthamians lost a scrum in the Ampthill 22 as they pressed for the crucial try. The visitors pack responded by driving upfield and winning a penalty which Rayner kicked to touch. From the resulting lineout, the Ampthill pack did the rest, driving over the OEs try-line, outstanding flanker Billy Johnson emerging with the ball.
It was a real kick to the guts for an OEs side who had spent the majority of the second period in Ampthill territory. A superb run from replacement James Golledge through the heart of the visitors’ defence took Elthamians again to within a few metres of the try-line in the closing minutes. But again, the Ampthill defence were in no mood to relinquish their grip on this game as OEs were denied a try for only the second game this season.
Pen: Carlisle x 2 (40, 45)
Tries: Bercis 2 Johnson 65
Pens: Pritchard 12, 23
Cons: Pritchard x 2
Old Elthamians: Surman, Emmerson, Moffat, Wilkins, Bennett, Carlisle, Claxton, L Brown, Morris, Rogers, Preocanin, Messum, Denbee, Barton, Ledger. Replacements: North, Rudland-Thomas, Munnelly, Golledge, Parker.
Referee: Neil Chivers
Half-time: Old Elthamians 3 Ampthill 13