Heywood heartache for battling OEs
There was to be no repeat of the memorable Play-off win at Heywood Road, as a late try condemned Elthamians to defeat in an action-packed 12-try thriller last Saturday.
Sale 42 Old Elthamians 38
A thunderous, action-packed and breathless encounter which rarely followed the script, went right to the wire at Heywood Road on Saturday as Elthamians were stunned by a try at the death.
With the visitors leading 38-35 five minutes from time, Sale centre Jack Moorhouse raced away down the left touchline to score in the corner and complete a hugely impressive second half comeback by the home side to leave injury-hit Elthamians wondering what might have been.
It was a suitably dramatic finale to a game which lasted close to three hours and simply had everything. Both clubs will be hard pushed to top this throughout the rest of the season.
Indeed, they can be justifiably proud of their efforts on an afternoon which reminded you just why, when it is played like this, rugby is such a thrilling and absorbing spectacle. There were a dozen tries, missed opportunities, some huge hits, drama aplenty and a 72-minute stoppage waiting for an ambulance to attend a serious-looking injury.
Played at a lung-burning tempo throughout, it was impossible to take your eyes off it for even a second and Scottish referee Finlay Brown deserves full credit for the way he allowed the game to flow. At one stage during the second half, it started to resemble a basketball match with tit-for-tat tries scored at either end. Although, whether the respective defence coaches of both sides will view the performances quite as fondly when they come to review the match video is another matter entirely.
The last time the two sides met in the compelling, hard fought 2017 Play-off final, two dominant defences were the order of the day and just two tries were scored, one of those a penalty try, and Elthamians were indebted to the boot of fly-half Tom White to secure a famous win.
This was an equally compelling afternoon but for very different reasons, as both sides threw caution to the wind with the ball in hand. And this time, it was Sale who had the match-winner in the muscular shape of Paulo Odogwu. Built like a bodybuilder but possessing the quick feet of a champion tap dancer, the Sale winger scored a hat-trick of well crafted tries and frightened the life out of the Elthamians defence with his pace and trickery wherever he popped up in the backline.
Sale had not lost at Heywood Road for 17 matches, their last defeat coming 18 months earlier to Elthamians in that Play-off. And in the opening exchanges it was easy to see why.
They looked assured from the outset, opening up a 14-0 lead after only 12 minutes thanks to a first try from the ubiquitous Odogwu who forced his way over in the right corner after the forwards had worked through numerous phases in the OEs 22. And then hooker Christian Taylor picked up a loose ball in the visitors’ midfield and charged through a weak tackle to score under the posts.
Elthamians looked sluggish and off the pace early on, but they suddenly burst into life and stunned the home crowd with a three-try burst in the space of six minutes. Kieran Moffat and Hamish Barton were the instigators, combining three times in Elthamians’ first meaningful attack of the half to take play deep into Sale territory.
First fly-half Tom White, on his 250th appearance for the club, crossed the try-line from five metres out after good work from his pack on 19 minutes. Then from the restart, winger Ben Howard, released by a lovely pass from centre Alex Brown, sprinted 40 metres down the left flank for a wonderful solo score. Lock Charlie Self completed the three-try burst on 25 minutes which gave OEs the lead for the first time when he forced his way over from close range for his first try for the club.
At this stage, Elthamians had their tails up and were threatening to cut loose. However, the game was halted for 72 minutes waiting for an ambulance to attend to Sale full-back Jonty Rawcliffe who was left prone on the turf on the left touchline after a nasty-looking collision with Elthamians captain Hamish Barton.
It was a worrying and uncertain period, although thankfully Rawcliffe was later given a clean bill of health. Once the game restarted with 12 minutes of the first half still to play, Elthamians picked up where they left off, skipper Barton crashing over by the posts after another break from Moffat.
Leading 24-14 at the interval, the Old Boys started the second half strongly, their forwards taking play into the home 22. But Sale weathered the storm and hit back with their first meaningful attack of the half on 51 minutes. Again it was Odogwu who did the damage, appearing in midfield with an arcing run midway inside the visitors’ territory that out-stripped the defence for an opportunist try.
It took Elthamians just three minutes to restore the 10-point advantage, however, hooker Nathan Morris bursting away from a driven maul in the Sale 22 after White had kicked a penalty into the home 22.
With gaps starting to appear in two tiring defences, try-scoring opportunities came thick and fast. Sale cut the deficit again when flanker Adam Aigbokhae stormed through a gap in midfield on 59 minutes, Elthamians replying with their sixth try of the afternoon when centre Alex Brown took a great line to burst over from a scrum five metres out.
Leading 38-28 in the final quarter, Elthamians looked to be heading for their fifth win in six games. Instead, it was the home side who sparked a dramatic shift in momentum. Odogwu completed an excellent hat-trick on 65 minutes with a jinking run down the narrow side and with the visitors hanging on desperately to a four-point lead in the closing moments, the impressive Moorhouse collected a lovely off-load from Neil Briggs who had made the crucial break, and raced away down the left touchline to score the match-winning try.
Tries: Odugwe x 3 (9,51, 66), Taylor 12, Aigbokhae 59 Moorehouse 76
Cons: Wilkinson 9,12, 76. Johnson 51,59,66
Tries: White 19, Howard 21, Self 25, Barton 39, Morris 56, Brown 63
Cons: White 19, 39, 56, 63.
Old Elthamians: Surman, Howard, A Brown, Moffat, Grandidier, White, Claxton, L Brown, Morris, Scutt, Self, Hosking, Messum, Barton, King. Replacements: North, Rudland-Thomas, Kovacic, Parker, Jeffery.
Referee: Finlay Brown