New Year disappointment for lacklustre OEs
Old Elthamians suffered a New Year’s hangover on Saturday as they were sent crashing to their heaviest defeat of the season at Darlington Mowden Park.
Darlington Mowden Park 41 Old Elthamians 26
After the frustrations of the Blackheath game before the Christmas break, this was a hugely disappointing start to 2019 for Elthamians which knocked them off the top of the table.
It’s hard to remember a more lacklustre opening 40 minutes than the one OEs produced at a freezing Northern Echo Arena. Frankly, they were flatter than a half empty bottle of champagne and it was left to an enterprising Darlington side to provide the fizz.
By the time, OEs roused themselves into something approaching their best form during a much improved second half display, the damage had already been done. They were never able to recover from an opening half hour which saw the home side run in four tries and race into a 28-0 lead.
As poor as Elthamians were in the first half, it should not detract from a Darlington performance that was top notch, and a pleasure to watch at times. They played with a pace and intensity and invention that the visitors struggled to cope with early on. The much vaunted Elthamians defence, so effective for much of the season, was cut to ribbons as the home side, sparked by the promptings of halfback duo Matt Dudman and Matt Law, and the energy of man of the match No.8 Rory Duff, ran riot.
They signalled their intent pretty much from the first whistle, opening the scoring inside 60 seconds. Lock Talite Vaioleti burst through the middle of a ruck in his own half and charged 40 metres unopposed into the visitors 22 before off-loading to Matt Dudman who released Garry Law for the try.
It was a try out of nowhere which stunned the visitors - convinced that Vaioleti had picked up the ball from an offside position - and the home side were quick to capitalise, doubling their lead just five minutes later when hooker Jordan Poole was driven over from a lineout in the OEs 22.
Elthamians had a chance to stem the tide on 15 minutes with their first foray into the Darlington 22. A quick tapped penalty by scrum-half Ollie Claxton caught the home defence napping and released centre James Golledge, so often Elthamians' game changer this season, who burst through a gap in the defence to cross the try-line unopposed, but inexplicably dropped the ball as he went to touch down.
It summed up Elthamians’ opening quarter. And worse was to follow.
An attempted clearance kick by Tom White on the edge of his own 22 was charged down by lock Joe Craggs for Callum MacKenzie to score Darlington’s third try and when Law added the fourth and bonus point try after only 28 minutes, Elthamians were in serious disarray.
However, the visitors grabbed a lifeline on the stroke of half-time when they finally gained some momentum, and slick hands from the backs and a lovely off-load out of the back of his hand from winger George Perkins enabled full-back Alex Brown to score in the corner.
Elthamians have shown time and again this season that they are certainly not lacking for spirit or resilience. And with a mountain to climb in the second half, they came out of the dressing room full of purpose and intent. Their efforts were rewarded with a try after only four minutes of the restart when hooker Nathan Morris crashed over from a driven lineout, White converting to cut the deficit to 14 points.
It sparked a concerted period of pressure as the OEs forwards took play deep into the Darlington 22 and pressed for a third try. But any hopes Elthamians had of a famous fightback were effectively dashed when Darlington scored the best try of the afternoon on 57 minutes.
Under pressure on their own line, they forced a turnover, broke out of defence up the right touchline and some lovely inter-passing enabled them to go the length of the field for MacKenzie to score his second try of the afternoon.
Law added a penalty to give the home side a seemingly unassailable 36-14 lead with just 15 minutes remaining, but in a storming end-to-end final quarter, Elthamians were given a glimmer of hope with two tries in quick succession. First, they drove another lineout in the Darlington 22 and with backs joining the ensuing maul, it was replacement Charlie Dockery who emerged with the ball over the line.
Then with just a minute of normal time remaining, OEs scored their fourth and bonus point try when winger Dom Lespierre burst over in the right hand corner after more good work from his forwards and slick handling out wide.
Fittingly, however, it was Darlington who were to have the final word when they put the seal on an impressive afternoon's work when winger Brandon Asher Wood gathered his own chip over the OEs defence to score in the third minute of injury time.
Tries: Law (1 28) Poole 7 MacKenzie (23 57) Asher Wood 80
Cons: Law x 4 (2 8 24 26)
Pens: Law 64
Tries: Brown 40, Morris 44, Dockery 69 Lespierre 79
Cons: White x 3 ( 40 45 70)
Old Elthamians: A Brown, Lespierre, Golledge, Moffat, Perkins, White, Claxton; Rogers, Morris, North, Hosking, Preocanin, Ledger, Barton, Messum. Subs: L Brown, Rudland-Thomas, Thomas, Morgan, Dockery.