Double delight for O'Meara
By Jon Edwards
OEs preserve 100 per cent home record with a bruising derby victory over their Essex rivals
Old Elthamians 38 Southend Saxons 29
OEs emerged from this bruising local derby with maximum points last Saturday as they recorded their third successive National Two South victory.
It was an impressive performance from the Old Boys, especially considering they had three men yellow carded, and was built on a superbly combative display from the pack against an aggressive Southend eight, and an excellent collective effort in defence, particularly in the second half.
There’s never been a dull moment at the Queen Mary ground so far this season and last Saturday was no different. A hugely entertaining, occasionally fractious, and wincingly physical encounter saw six tries scored and four men sin-binned in the first 40 minutes.
Elthamians have been slow starters in recent weeks and so it proved again when Southend took the lead after only nine minutes. After a driving maul 10 metres from the Elthamians try-line, centre Chris Vaughn latched onto a neat chip over the defence from fly-half Bradley Burr to touch down.
Worse was to follow for the home side when they were reduced to 13 men after only 16 minutes. A bad tempered opening quarter erupted with an altercation between Southend scrum-half Jack Daly and OEs flanker Jamie Cullen. Southend duo Kris Chesney and Sam Fombo joined the fray, punches were thrown and the result was Cullen was somewhat harshly singled out and shown the yellow card by referee Calum Howard.
Prop Aaron Liffchak followed Cullen just a minute later when he was judged to have deliberately pulled down a maul, and Southend took full advantage of their two-man advantage to score their second try of the afternoon through captain Mark Billings who went over in the right hand corner on 18 minutes.
Home supporters must have feared they were in for a long afternoon with their side 10-0 down and temporarily reduced to 13 players.
However, to their great credit, Elthamians hit back in impressive fashion. From a scrum inside the visitors’ 22, No.8 Tom Brown, who enjoyed an outstanding match, charged towards the try line. When he was brought down a couple of metres short, Lee Nelmes was on hand to crash over the line.
Brown went from provider to try scorer in the 29th minute when he emerged from a pile of bodies over the Southend try-line from a driven lineout five metres out to give OEs the lead for the first time, 14-10.
The final 10 minutes of the half proved to be the defining period of the match. With OEs back up to a full quota, it was Southend’s turn to be reduced to 13 men when they lost both Chesney and Fombo to the sin bin for foul play, and the Old Boys took full advantage with two well taken tries from captain Gavin O’Meara.
The first on 32 minutes came after a fantastic passage of play which started on the halfway line. The ball was quickly recycled through six phases and after strong carries from Cullen, Cunnew and Webber, O’Meara popped up on the right wing to score.
O’Meara’s second score two minutes from half-time came from a pre-planned lineout move five metres from the Southend try line, the hooker taking a short try-scoring pass from prop Jeremy Cunnew. The Old Boys had scored 26 unanswered points in an 18-minute spell to take a commanding 26-10 half-time lead.
Southend started strongly after the interval and forced their way deep into Elthamians territory. They were given added impetus when wing Fionn McLoughlin, making his first appearance of the season on the wing for the injured Craig Dowsett, became the third OEs player to be shown a yellow card after he was penalised for deliberately obstructing a Southend attack five metres from the OEs line. From the resulting line-out, Southend’s Dutch international No.8 Krijn Twight crashed over for a try to narrow OEs’ lead to 26-17 on 45 minutes.
The momentum seemed to have swung back in Southend’s favour. But they were unable to capitalise further on their man advantage thanks to some superb Elthamians defence. Time and time again, the visitors were knocked out of their stride or tackled behind the gain line by some massive Elthamian hits which forced the ball loose.
Having weathered the initial storm at the start of the half, the Old Boys hit Southend with a classic sucker punch in the 60th minute when a rare foray into the visitors’ 22 saw the ball recycled quickly down the blindside where Cullen was on hand to provide McLoughlin with the simplest of tries - his first in the league for the club since joining in the summer.
The try, against the run of play, seemed to knock the stuffing out of the Southend revival as just six minutes later, the Old Boys scored their sixth and final try of the afternoon. Aggressive defence by replacement prop Lewis Brown forced the turnover and fly-half Chris Surman was quick to spread the ball wide to full-back Tom White coming into the line at pace who burst past two would-be tacklers to score.
Behind 38-17 with only 10 minutes remaining, the visitors through caution to the wind and tried to run a tiring Elthamians defence off their feet. They were rewarded for their endeavours with two late tries, the first an excellent score from full-back Iain Meads after a tremendous break from hooker Nick Grier, the second a penalty try two minutes from time, when OEs were penalised for deliberately bringing down a maul two metres from their try-line.
But it was too little too late, as Elthamians secured a fully deserved victory to preserve their 100 per cent record at home this season.
Old Elthamians: White, Webber, Golledge, Hough, McLoughlin, Surman, Edwards, Brown, Nelmes, Cullen, Davies, Dewale, Liffchak, O’Meara (capt), Cunnew.