OEs hold off late Plymouth onslaught
A superb goal-line stand in the dying moments saw Elthamians edge a thriller in the gloom at Brickfields on Saturday.
Plymouth Albion 15 Old Elthamians 19
Another Saturday, another nail-biter.
If National One matches lasted only 70 minutes, life would be considerably less stressful for the Elthamians management and supporters.
It has been a recurring theme this season. In seven league games so far, the Old Boys have conceded late tries in the final 10 minutes after being in the box seat for the previous 70, and in two of those games - against Sale and Chinnor - it has cost them victory.
On this occasion, however, a superb goal-line stand in the dying moments of an enthralling National One contest saw the battling Old Boys hold their nerve, and crucially their discipline, to secure a first win at a rain-drenched Brickfields.
It was reminiscent of last season’s magnificent goal-line stand against Cambridge at College Meadow and capped a throughly impressive OEs performance in testing conditions against a powerful Plymouth outfit.
It was the first time Elthamians have successfully shut out a side in the final quarter of a game on the road since Old Albanians in December last year, and provided further proof, if any were needed, that as a group, they are significantly improved on last season. In the corresponding fixture 12 months ago, Elthamians were leading 17-10 with just two minutes remaining on the scoreboard but conceded a late try and had to settle for a draw.
This time, as the rain and wind swirled around a murky Brickfields, Plymouth, behind by just four points going into the final five minutes, laid siege to the OEs try-line with a series of scrums and forward drives, but could find no way past the resilient Elthamians defence.
Five times Plymouth attempted to get the shove on at the scrum, five times the Elthamians pack dug in and the scrum either wheeled or was reset. When the collective shove didn’t work and with the home fans baying at referee Harry Walbaum to award a penalty try, Plymouth turned to their talismanic No.8 Herbie Stupple.
Twice he was held up short of the line and after the Plymouth forwards battered away at the line through umpteen phases without success, they eventually ran out of patience, moved the ball wide and promptly knocked the ball on as the final whistle blew.
It was a thrilling climax to a fast, open and end-to-end encounter and both sides deserve immense credit for the way they set about their task given the conditions.
Neither side could establish a clear stranglehold on the game throughout, but it was Plymouth who got off to a dream start with a try after only two minutes, Kevin Arnott collecting a kick over the top of the OEs defence before off-loading to centre Dean Squire to touch down by posts.
Elthamians regrouped and after a searing Tom White break had taken the visitors deep into the Plymouth 22, they hit back just six minutes later when Max Wilkins marked his return to the side after missing the last eight games through injury, by cutting back on the angle and crashing over under the posts.
The home side then lost flanker Flynn Elworthy to a yellow card for a tip tackle on Wilkins, which looked a harsh call, but it did not prevent them from adding a second try on 27 minutes when prop Dan Swain, outstanding throughout, charged over from a driven lineout in the Elthamians 22.
However, it was Elthamians who took a 14-10 lead into the dressing room at half-rime when White and the ubiquitous Wilkins combined down the narrow side of a ruck to release winger Dom Lespierre who raced over in the corner, White converting superbly from the touchline.
As the weather worsened at the start of the second period, the well drilled Plymouth pack threaten to take a stranglehold on the game, driving deep into Elthamians territory.
But the visitors defence weathered the storm in every sense, and on 50 minutes, very much against the run of play, they turned defence into attack to set up a crucial score.
A turnover midway inside their own half saw full-back Charlie Dockery release Lespierre away on the right. The winger streaked 50 metres down the touchline before passing inside to replacement scrum-half Rhys Morgan who had the pace and the strength to hold off two Plymouth defenders and win the race for the try-line.
But Plymouth were far from beaten and it took them just three minutes too reply. Again, it came from a driven lineout on the edge of the OEs 22 and again it was the impressive Swain who charged over for his second try of the afternoon.
In a fast and furious final quarter, playing into an increasingly strong wind meant that Elthamians were reluctant to put boot to ball to clear their lines, preferring instead to play out of their own 22 with a series of forward drives.
It was a dangerous game to play, however, and when Plymouth forced a turnover midway inside the OEs half, it set up their frantic closing onslaught on the try-line.But the Elthamians rearguard, outstanding all afternoon, refused to buckle, tackling themselves to a standstill to secure a much needed third away win of the season.
Tries: Squire 2 Swain 26 56
Tries: Wilkins 7 Lespierre 32 Morgan 49
Cons: White 8, 33
Old Elthamians: Dockery, Lespierre, Moffat, Wilkins, Golledge, White, Claxton, L Brown, Morris, Scutt, Hosking, Kovacic, Ledger, Barton, King. Subs: North, Rutland-Thomas, Foster, Morgan, Neden.
Referee: Harry Walbaum