Old Elthamians 27 Plymouth Albion 20
‘Potentially season-defining’ was how Gavin Lach described it immediately afterwards and there was no doubt this was a sorely needed victory for Elthamians after two disappointing defeats on the spin.
Aside from their continuing propensity for conceding needless penalties in a disjointed opening half hour, this was a major improvement on the performances against Sale and Rosslyn Park.
OEs DoR was also delighted with the contributions of two players making their league debuts for the club.
Lock Dylan Flashman’s first league start has been a long time coming. A serious hamstring injury sustained in the pre-season fixture in Jersey back in August 2018, caused him to miss the whole of last season. And the former Wimbledon captain was eager to make up for lost time at College Meadow on Saturday. A powerful and industrious presence around the park, Flashman was at the heart of an impressive forward effort.
Australian-born centre Marc Koteczky only arrived at College Meadow last month, having previously spent two seasons from 2015 with Plymouth. But he made an immediate impact against his former club. Strong, compact and an astute footballer with the ball in hand, he combined impressively with midfield partner George Eastwell. It’s no coincidence that Elthamians made almost as many line breaks against Plymouth as they did in their three previous matches combined.
In an entertaining but error-strewn opening 40 minutes, Plymouth had started the brighter of the two sides and opened the scoring after only eight minutes.
Elthamians had done well initially to force a turnover defending their own line, but Tom White’s attempted clearance kick was charged down by his Plymouth counterpart Dan Mugford who dived on the loose ball to score, the fly-half converting his own try.
White made amends two minutes later with a penalty after Plymouth lock Dan Collier was yellow carded for killing the ball following a strong break from Koteczky in midfield which had taken OEs into the visitors' 22 for the first time.
But Mugford restored the visitors’ seven-point advantage on 16 minutes when OEs flanker Mike Kovacic penalised for a high tackle, following a lacerating break from impressive Plymouth scrum-half Pierre Thompson which had taken play to within a couple of metres of the OEs try-line.
In a frenetic first quarter, despite seeing plenty of ball, Elthamians lacked composure at crucial moments, again conceding too many penalties or committing unforced errors having worked hard to put themselves in strong attacking positions.
But as the half wore, the confidence began to grow in the home ranks and the majority of the play in the closing 10 minutes of the first period took place in and around the Plymouth 22.
White kicked his second penalty following good work from Eastwell to cut the deficit to four points, and Elthamians looked to have taken the lead for the first time on the half hour mark when winger George Perkins dived over in the corner from Eastwell’s looping mis-pass. But referee Callum Howard adjudged the pass was forward and disallowed the score.
White missed a penalty attempt on the stroke of half-time after the Elthamians had shunted the visitors back at scrum-time, but it was a sign that momentum had begun to shift towards the home side after the uncertainty of the opening exchanges.
Indeed, OEs came scorching out of the blocks after the restart. Slick hands from the backs released Perkins who raced 40 metres up the touchline but his off-load to Adam Batt inside was deemed forward.
Perkins was not to be denied five minutes later, however, as Elthamians took the lead for the first time. Lovely inter-play involving both backs and forwards saw OEs move the ball to both flanks, stretching the Plymouth defence for Perkins to force his way over in the corner.
When White added his third penalty of the game on 50 minutes following another strong break from Eastwell, Elthamians were playing as well as at any time this season.
However, the game exploded into life for the wrong reasons on 58 minutes. A strong tackle by Plymouth replacement Rus Tuima on Perry Parker sparked an ugly melee in the centre of the field. After extended consultation with his assistants, referee Howard showed red cards to Tuima and Parker.
With tensions still running high after the fracas, White kicked his fourth penalty to extend the lead to 17-10 only for Elthamians to find themselves down to 13 men when flanker Adam Batt was yellow carded for a late tackle.
It sparked a period of sustained Plymouth pressure, culminating in a wonderful try scored on 67 minutes to level the scores. Visitors sub Cam Setter took a quick tapped penalty and chipped the ball over the on-rushing OEs defence for winger Alex Ducker to collect the loose ball, step inside the last defender and touch down.
With the scores level entering the final 10 minutes, it was Elthamians who took a firm stranglehold on proceedings, putting the visitors under heavy pressure in their own half.
White regained the lead for the home side with his fifth successful penalty after strong work by his forwards in the scrum on 71 minutes before victory was secured with the Old Boys' crucial second try of the afternoon just a minute later.
It started with a massive tackle from replacement hooker Jarad Saunders which forced a turnover and allowed winger Bryan Hotson to break into the Plymouth 22. When he was brought down, the ball was moved quickly wide for full-back Louis Brown to step inside his tackler and dive between the posts for his first try for the club.
Tries: Perkins 44 Brown 72
Cons: White 73
Pens: White x 5 (11 23 47 53 71)
Tries: Mugford 7 Ducker 67
Cons: Mugford 7 Eastgate 67
Pens: Mugford 16 Eastgate 77
Old Elthamians: Brown, Hotston, Koteczky, Eastwell, Perkins, White, Claxton; Concu, Morris, North, Flashman, Parker, Kovacic, Barton, Batt. Subs: Hay, Saunders, Devine, Morgan, Dockery.
Plymouth: Eastgate, Skelcey, Powell, Pohe, Ducker, Mugford, Thompson, Chapman, Norey, Pullinger, Collier, Kelly, Daly, Mills, Stupple. Subs: Salter, Tuima, Setter, Higgins, Squire.
Referee: Callum Howard
Half-time: OId Elthamians 6 Plymouth Albion 10