OEs back in pole position
Old Elthamians returned to the top of the National One table at College Meadow on Saturday after this hard fought victory over a resolute Esher side.
Old Elthamians 22 Esher 10
It was far from emphatic, and it wasn’t pretty at times, but in the most open National One campaign for years this was another important step in the right direction for Gavin Lach’s men.
Last season, Esher completed the double over the Old Boys, bringing them crashing down to earth in their first ever outing in National One, 39-14 at Molesey Road, and then inflicting a comprehensive 30-0 drubbing on the final day of the season at College Meadow.
This time round, however, Elthamians, featuring nine players in the starting line-up from that loss in April, showed they had learned invaluable lessons from the previous two fixtures between the sides, even if they did not have things their own way, particularly in the second half.
A hugely impressive defensive effort laid the foundations for the win and Elthamians needed to be at their best without the ball in hand because despite appearing to be in control for almost an hour of this entertaining encounter, leading 19-3, they were unable to shake off the tenacious Surrey side.
Indeed, Esher fought back strongly in the final quarter, penning Elthamians in their own 22 and forcing them to repel a series of drives in front of their own line. The Old Boys were indebted to full-back Charlie Dockery who made two try-saving tackles on wingers Kariym Irving and Joe Beckett as Esher enjoyed their best period of the game.
Significantly however, and no doubt to the immense satisfaction of the Elthamians' coaching team, after leaking sloppy tries in the final quarter of their previous three matches, OEs managed to shut out the visitors during the final 20 minutes.
It was a positive end to a game that had begun in fits and starts. A tight, edgy opening 40 minutes was dominated by two aggressive defences and the sound of the referee’s whistle at regular intervals for a succession of unforced errors and infringements.
It was Elthamians who took a deserved 12-3 half-time lead thanks to two well-worked tries. Winger Dom Lespierre opened the scoring on 13 minutes after a strong run from centre James Golledge off the back of a lineout midway inside the Esher half.
They were made to wait until the 34th minute however, before extending their lead when flanker Harry Ledger finished off a sweeping move started by centre Kieran Moffat in his own half and continued by hooker Nathan Morris and Lespierre. Esher’s only points coming shortly before the half-time whistle with a penalty by fly-half Owen Waters.
When lock Michael Kovacic was driven over under the posts after strong work from his pack in the Esher 22 just three minutes after the restart, Elthamians looked to be well in control leading 19-3.
But Esher then enjoyed their best spell of the game and after Dockery had twice made crucial tackles on Irving and Beckett as the wingers threatened to streak away down either flank, the pressure eventually otold on the edge of the OEs 22 when winger Beckett crossed in the corner on 60 minutes following a strong drive from George Head.
Tom White gave Elthamians some much needed breathing space when he kicked a penalty on 69 minutes and although the visitors finished the game pressing strongly in the OEs 22, they could find no way through the wall of blue and gold shirts.
Tries: Lespierre 13 Ledger 34 Kovacic 43
Cons: White 34 44
Pens White 69
Tries: Beckett 60
Cons: Waters 61
Pens: Waters 37
Old Elthamians: Dockery, Lespierre, Golledge, K Moffat, Howard, White, Claxton, North, Morris, Scutt, Hosking, Kovacic, Ledger, Barton (capt), King. Replacements: L Brown, Rudland-Thomas, Quinton, Morgan, J Moffat
Esher: Coyle, Beckett, Arnold, Strang, Irving, Waters, Walsh; Lowes, Hope, Paul, Logan, Gentles, Cooke, Gossington, Moore-Aiono. Replacements: Clements, Head, Hore, Simpson, Brooks.
Referee: Robbie Bourke
Half-time: Old Elthamians 12 Esher 3
Star man: Charlie Dockery (Old Elthamians)