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Esher v Old Albanians Match report by: Philip Wigley

Esher vs Old Albanians

by Phil Wigley

Match Report, Saturday 10th February 2018

Esher continued their run of recent good form with a convincing bonus point victory over Old Albanians at a wet and blustery Molesey Road on Saturday.  On an afternoon when the conditions limited the prospects of an expansive game, the Esher forwards produced a dominant display in the set piece to earn their side a valuable 24-8 win over the visitors from St Albans.

Kicking off into a strong headwind, it was the home side who made the brighter start, securing possession in the opening exchanges and launching a sustained spell of pressure in the visitor’s half.  As the pressure continued to mount, winger Joe Beckett crossed the line in the 10th minute, only for the officials to deem that the ball had not been correctly grounded.  Esher were not to be denied for long however, when hooker Billy Harding forced his way over from close range 2 minutes later, crashing through the defence and bowling the referee over in the process.  Paul Roberts added the extras to make the score Esher 7-Old Albanians 0 after 12 minutes.

With Esher looking to build on their lead, it was the visitors who claimed the next score when a clearance kick caught in the wind and was spilled by the home defence.  Winger Joe Bridger was on hand to seize on the mistake and kick ahead to score in the right-hand corner.  The conversion was unsuccessful, leaving the score after 17 minutes Esher 7-Old Albanians 5.

The Old Albanians forwards were beginning to impose themselves in the loose by this stage, retaining possession well and testing the home defence with a succession of drives and carries in the Esher half.  A penalty kick at goal in the 24th minute went wide, but the visitors continued to press forward in search of another score, enjoying a prolonged period of pressure and territory.

Esher defended well to counter the threat of their opponents however, and when the ball was eventually turned over they soon worked their way back into the Old Albanian’s half.  Having rumbled their way into the visitor’s 22, a series of carries from the forwards brought them to within reach of the try line, creating the platform for Billy Harding to drive over for his second try of the afternoon.  Roberts added the extras to extend Esher’s lead to 14-5 after 33 minutes.

The home side’s 3rd try of the afternoon quickly followed, although arguably in a slightly fortuitous fashion.  A kick for the left-hand corner from fly-half Roberts sailed behind the covering Old Albanian’s wing, before bouncing back over the defender’s head towards the chasing Esher backs.  The ball sat up invitingly into the arms of centre Cadan Murley who raced away to score from around 20 metres out.  Roberts was unsuccessful with the conversion, leaving the half time score at Esher 19-Old Albanians 5.

Following the restart, another spell of pressure from the visitors was rewarded with a penalty in front of the posts in the 48th minute.  Scrum-half Morgan Thompson duly slotted the kick to reduce Esher’s lead to 11 points.

Esher responded well however, battling back to bring up their bonus point try just 6 minutes later.  Having been awarded a penalty from a dominant scrum on the half-way line, Paul Roberts used the wind well to land the ball just inside the Old Albanian’s 22.  From the resulting lineout, a driving maul from the Esher forwards surged over the line, with Billy Harding coming up with the score to seal his hat-trick.  The conversion went wide to leave the score at Esher 24-Old Albanians 8.

Man of the moment Harding looked set to score again moments later, showing good handling skills to take a pass one-handed behind his back before bursting through the first line of defence into the Old Albanian’s half.  The Esher hooker charged forwards into the space, heading for a one-on-one with the full-back only to be called back by the referee’s whistle for a forward pass.  His afternoon’s work down however, Billy Harding was replaced with 12 minutes on the clock, leaving the field to a rapturous ovation from the home supporters.

The visitors went on to show more good ball retention during a lengthy spell of possession, but the Esher defence was able to absorb the pressure and prevent any meaningful attacks from developing.  Indeed it was the home side who looked most likely to score again, when another driving maul was launched just outside the Old Albanian’s 10 metre line.  As the Esher pack marched rapidly forwards, the visitors struggled to contain the power and pace of the drive, sliding backwards on the heavy surface until the maul was abruptly pulled down by illegal means. 

With the referee having awarded the penalty and reaching for his pocket, tempers flared and a brief scuffle ensued, resulting in the decision being reversed and a yellow card to Esher replacement Devlin Hope for his part in the fracas.  Old Albanians prop Charlie Hughes was also sent to the bin for the original offence, meaning that both sides would finish the match with 14 men.

From that point on the match passed without further incident, and as the skies darkened on a bleak and dreary February afternoon, Esher went on to close out the final minutes and secure a hard fought and invaluable bonus point win.

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