With just two weekends of the campaign remaining in what has been one of the closest National One title races in years, the Old Boys are running out of time - and games - to catch Ampthill at the top of the table.
They face another tough test tomorrow at Stortford - one of the form teams in the division. The Hertfordshire side have won nine of their last 11 games to push for a top six finish and their Silver Leys home has not been a happy hunting ground for Elthamians in recent seasons. They lost 34-20 there last term and OEs will have to improve on last Saturday’s performance against Cinderford, if they are to secure a vital win.
Two tries in the final 10 minutes completed a late fightback to clinch a 22-17 victory against the Foresters. But the failure to secure a four-try bonus point means OEs are now five points behind Ampthill and they must win their two remaining games and hope that the league leaders somehow slip up in their remaining fixtures at home to Sale tomorrow and then away at Loughborough on the final afternoon of the season in a fortnight’s time.
Although Elthamians were unconvincing for long periods last Saturday, head coach Sam Howard was quick to give credit to a combative Cinderford display.
“Cinderford have one of the best packs in the league and play a forward-orientated game so it was always going to be tough up front,” Howard said. “The previous weeks against Caldy and Cambridge we dominated up front so I don’t see our forward play as a problem.
“Cinderford had a game plan to disrupt our rhythm and slow the game down as much as possible and to their credit they achieved this. Our set piece didn't function as well as we would like which meant we struggled for possession and Cinderford were very good at retaining possession even if they weren't actually going anywhere with it.”
He added: “The referee certainly didn't help things - we had 16 penalties given against us yet we only conceded four against Plymouth, six against Cambridge and seven against Caldy!”
Of greater concern to OEs head coach is the side’s propensity for sluggish starts in recent weeks. “We do seem to be starting games relatively slowly which we have looked at this week,” he said. “That being said, I thought we stayed in the game well, battled hard when we went down to 13 men and scored three great tries. But for another very strange refereeing decision, I think we would have got the bonus point for a fourth try.”
Although there is plenty of room for improvement, OEs coach believes his side will be able to adapt to the very different challenge presented by in-form Storttford tomorrow . “We tweak things every week no matter who we are playing, I think that has been one of the reasons behind our success this year,” he said. “We are able to play our style of rugby but also make subtle changes depending on who we are playing against.
“If you switch off defensively against Stortford they will hurt you as they are a quality side and like to play a fast-tempo game. As with any game, if you can dominate possession against an opponent then it becomes a lot easier.”
Bishop's Stortford v Old Elthamians kicks off at 3pm tomorrow.
Updated 07:50 - 15 Apr 2019 by Jon Edwards