OEs Women in pole position
Andy Birchall's late try secured an impressive victory over previously unbeaten leaders Sutton & Epsom and sent OEs clear at the top.
Sutton & Epsom 7 Old Elthamians 10
Elthamians moved to the top of the table for the first time this season after a hard fought victory over league leaders Sutton on Sunday.
Both sides were unbeaten going into this top of the table showdown, OEs’ only blemish coming on the opening day of the season when they drew with Cuffley.
Elthamians made four changes to the starting line-up, including a new halfback pairing with Bethan Shaw returning at scrum-half to replace Katie Dootson and German international Clair Melville-Brown making her first start of the season at fly-half in place of her Hungarian counterpart Csilla Feher who was sidelined through injury. In the forwards Charley Mitten replaced Sophie Merryweather at lock and Miriam Taylor came into the back row for Ciara Walkin.
They started confidently, putting good phases together to work downfield from the kick-off, but the Sutton defence was up quickly to pressure Melville-Brown. As the game settled it was clear OEs had an advantage at the scrum with the home side being shunted off their own ball on their first put in.
As the half wore on it became clear this wasn't going to be a day for expansive, free-flowing rugby. Notable breaks from front rowers Bex Goodwin and Caroline Olwa put Sutton on the back foot and a Miriam Taylor carry took OEs deep into home territory.
A chance for points went begging as a penalty in front of the posts was tapped and eventually turned over. This mistake wouldn’t be made again as OEs piled on the pressure, Goodwin was held up over the line and a five metre scrum was awarded. The OEs pack eased their way forward as New Zealand No.8 Courtney Harvey controlled at the base and touched down over the line for the first points of the game to give the visitors a narrow 5-0 lead at the interval.
After the turnaround it was OEs’ turn to soak up the pressure with the league leaders releasing wave upon wave of attacks. Only resolute defence kept them at bay with huge hits coming in from back rowers Taylor and Beccy Penfold.
However, after what seemed like an eternity of possession camped in the OEs 22, Sutton finally pierced the defence to register a deserved converted try to take the lead for the first time.
With an injection of fresh legs, Elthamians once again started to take control with second row duo Vicki Benbow and Mitten making a series of strong drives and centre pair Helen Harris and Emily John beginning to making in-roads in midfield.
As the game slipped into the final ten minutes, the visitors couldn’t turn pressure into points as good possession from scrums and lineouts in the danger zone were penalised or turned over.
With time running out, a turnover at the break down by Harvey found Benbow who put boot to ball and a strong kick chase resulted in another turnover just inside the 22. OEs carried hard through the forwards and then released the ball wide where John’s final pass found winger Andy Birchall who crashed over for the match-winning try with just three minutes remaining!
Joint players of the match went to back rowers Miriam Taylor and Courtney Harvey.
Old Elthamians: Allebone, Chenery, John, Harris, Birchall, Melville-Brown, Shaw, Wilson, Goodwin, Olwa, Benbow, Mitten, Penfold, Taylor, Harvey. Reserves: Merryweather, Walkin, Dootson, Chiu.