OEs Women edge title showdown
International duo starred as OEs completed the double over Sutton & Epsom in a thrilling clash of the division's top two sides at College Meadow.
Old Elthamians 22 Sutton & Epsom 15
Unbeaten Elthamians moved to within touching distance of a first ever league title after edging this close fought top of the table showdown at College Meadow.
Samoan international hooker Laura Levi, a recent recruit from Premiership outfit Harlequins, and Germany Sevens international Clair Melville-Brown put in standout performances as OEs produced a strong final quarter to move clear of second placed Sutton.
OEs made four changes to the starting line-up with Levi coming into the front row to replace the injured Caz Olwa and Poppy Branch starting at lock with Charley Mitten moving to the bench. With all three scrum-half options injured or unavailable Charlotte Andrews was loaned in from Canterbury. To partner her in the half-backs Helen Harris took over from injured Hungarian international Csilla Feher at fly-half. Emily John moved from outside to inside centre with Amy Allebone returning from injury to take the final centre spot.
Despite going against the wind and slope in the first half, it was Sutton who had the bulk of early possession and territory, although the OEs defence held strong. On 20 minutes, OEs were awarded a penalty against the run of play. No.8 Courtney Harvey pushed the ball deep into Sutton territory and from the resulting lineout, Elthamians set up a driving maul which was brought down close to the line. The ball was fed to Harris who crashed through a couple of tackles to go over for the first points of the game.
Sutton fought back strongly and within five minutes they were level. Good phase play in the OEs 22 led to a try out wide. Going into the final 10 minutes of the half it was still the visitors with all the momentum and fluidity in attack producing quick clean ball. A raft of phases led to another try out wide.
Shortly before the interval, Elthamians were once again awarded a penalty which Harvey duly put in the corner. The maul was halted close to the line and following a series of short drives, prop Bex Goodwin burrowed over for a try which Harvey converted to give OEs a narrow 12-10 lead at half-time.
Sutton started the half with early possession again but were met with ferocious defence as Harris, John and openside flanker Miriam Taylor pushed up hard and fast. And momentum started to swing OEs way - Levi made good yardage every time she carried with props Miri Ravulo and Goodwin not far behind. With ball coming quicker and cleaner, Andrews was able to deliver faster ball and Melville-Brown made in-roads out wide often linking with Harvey and Taylor.
Despite going close on a couple of occasions, OEs couldn't turn possession into points and a turnover in the Sutton half saw the opposition fly-half break a couple of tackles and go the length of the field to score and give Sutton a crucial lead.
With only fifteen minutes remaining, Elthamians upped the tempo again with Harris and John constantly causing plenty of problems for the overworked Sutton defence. Following multiple phases, the ball made its way to Taylor who powered over in the corner to give OEs a narrow 17-15 lead.
From the kick-off, OEs once again made their way up field and full-back Claire Chiu had the final word when she hit the line at pace and sprinted in untouched to put the game beyond doubt. With possession secured captain Vicki Benbow put the ball into touch to secure a hard fought victory.
Forward of the match went to Samoan hooker Laura Levi whose powerful carrying put OEs on the front foot. Backs award went to Clair Melville-Brown who had a stand-out game in both defence and attack.
Old Elthamians: Chiu, Melville-Brown, Allebone, John, Birchall, Harris, Andrews, Goodwin, Levi, Ravulo, Benbow, Branch, Penfold, Taylor, Harvey. Subs: Black, Mitten, Walkin, Cormack.