Battling OEs back in business
Elthamians held off a second half Park fightback at College Meadow to topple the league leaders and cut the gap at the top of National One to just one point.
Old Elthamians 28 Rosslyn Park 22
After the lows of Darlington the week before, the highs.
Elthamians withstood a storming second half fightback by leaders Rosslyn Park to secure their first win in three games and blow the National One title race wide open.
The top four sides are now separated by just one point and if the thrilling contest that OEs and Rosslyn Park served up at an expectant College Meadow is any indication, the sprint down the home straight for promotion is heading for a photo finish.
In an intense, absorbing and bruising game of two halves, Elthamians had moved into a 28-10 lead after 50 minutes thanks to a first half display as good as any they have produced this season, only to see Park come roaring back in some style with two unanswered second half tries.
And in the final minute of normal time, the visitors looked to have pulled off a last gasp win when, having battered away at the wall of blue and gold shirts through multiple phases in the OEs 22, replacement Hugh Tizard stretched over the try-line. But referee Nick Wood, after consulting with his assistant referee, ruled that there was no clear grounding and awarded a scrum.
“I thought after two poor performances against Blackheath and Darlington, we played very well,” said delighted OEs Director of Rugby Gavin Lach. “I thought we were excellent in the first half and we left two tries out there when it really should have been game over. But fair play to Rosslyn Park, they came back at us in the second half. As I’ve said all along I think they are the best side we have faced this season by far.”
He continued: “We are not getting carried away. There’s been nine different sides on top of the table so far and in my opinion this league will not be decided until 5pm on the last day of the season.”
Both sides will think they did enough to claim the win, and with some justification given the shift in momentum either side of half-time, although in the final analysis it was Elthamians' dominance in the opening 40 minutes and ability to turn that pressure into points, which proved to be the decisive factor.
The omens did not look great early on, however, when they made a disastrous start for the second successive week and conceded a try inside the first 60 seconds.
Quick ball off the top of a lineout allowed outstanding Park flanker Arthur Ellis to break the first line of defence in the Elthamians midfield and off-load to his centre Oli Grove for a simple score by the posts.
However, for the rest of the half Elthamians dominated territory and possession, resulting in three well-worked tries - and Tom White, who enjoyed an outstanding afternoon pulling the strings at fly-half, was the instigator.
His darting break and clever miss-pass released James Golledge down the wing who fed flanker Harry Ledger inside him for the first try on five minutes.
Seven minutes later it was White himself who added a second score, finishing off excellent work by Perkins and a lovely off-load from the ubiquitous Ledger to touch down in the corner.
On 30 minutes, White's chip with the outside of his boot over the on-rushing Park defence was collected by Golledge who held off a tackler to score by the posts. White converted two of the tries and added a penalty to give his side a 22-10 half-time lead.
When the OEs fly-half kicked two further penalties shortly after the restart, Elthamians looked to be well in control.
However, it signalled a Park resurgence and a major shift in momentum as their pack rolled up their collective sleeves and began to build through multiple phases, pinning the home side in their own half for long periods.
The pressure eventually told when Park flanker Adam Frampton forced his way over from close range on 57 minutes. Then winger Charlie Amesbury squeezed over in the corner after good work from his pack to cut the deficit to just six points and set up a thrilling finale.
“It was a hell of a game for National One,” said Rosslyn Park head coach Kieran Power. “We can talk about the referee’s decision at the end, but in fairness we lost the game in the first half with ill-discipline and then we were chasing our tails a little bit. When we decided to play some rugby, we showed we can play.
“Elthamians are a very good side and they did a right number on us in the first half. It took us a while to get it together but the boys were fully committed and we can be proud of that.”
He added: “We will go again next week - there’s a lot of rugby to be played until the end of the season.”
Tries: Ledger 5 White 11 Golledge 32
Cons: White 5 30
Pens: White 29 42 48
Tries: Grove 1 Frampton 56 Amesbury 64
Cons: Leonard 1 56
Pens: Leonard 19
Old Elthamians: A Brown, Lespierre, Dockery, Golledge, Perkins, White, Claxton (Morgan 73); Rogers (L Brown 60), Morris, North, Hosking, Preocanin, Ledger, Barton, King (Kovacic 65). Replacements not used: Rudland-Thomas, Howard.
Referee: Nick Wood
Half-time: OId Elthamians 22 Rosslyn Park 10