DETERMINED ESHER TAKE OPENING DAY SPOILS AGAINST ENTERPRISING RICHMOND
@MSSher1 at the Richmond Athletic Ground
RICHMOND (7) 22
Tries: Keville, Warden, Doherty, Alexander
ESHER RUGBY (13) 28
Convs: Daniels (2)
Pens: Daniels (3)
Despite losing three men to the sin-bin at various points in the afternoon, the men from Molesey Road began the new season with a gutsy 28-22 win at Richmond, for whom former Esher favourite James Doherty was on the score sheet.
Both of last season’s fixtures between the two local rivals were highly entertaining engagements, but despite Esher winning at the RAG in April, their most recent visit had ended in rather more chastening fashion, as an impressive London Scottish side clocked up 81 points in a comprehensive victory just seven days ago.
Chris Kibble was quick to point out after that game that he, alongside senior coaches Ricky Nebbett and Craig Chalmers, had used that as a tool to inspire their group – and the fact they came out with a win against Scottish’s co-tenants, seemingly against all the odds, clearly showed this Esher squad is certainly not lacking in self-belief or spirit.
Opening days are often a time when summer recruits are still familiarising themselves with new colleagues, but there were no less than seven players, across both squads, who had at some point in their career, worn the opposition jersey.
One such man was Rob Kirby, who arrived at the Athletic Ground via Southend having left Esher mid-way through last term and, as was inevitable, the bearded full-back enjoyed a terrific afternoon against his former employers.
The visitors, including three debutants in Tom Whelan, Jay Udo-Udoma and Ashley Smith, started the brighter on a crisp afternoon in south-west London, and drew first blood through Luke Daniels’ reliable right foot.
Another certainty, the power of the big units up front, was soon noticeable as the Esher pack began to exert its muscle. Ian Kench, Cameron Gentles and Stewart Maguire are all fresh having spent considerable time on the sidelines through injuries picked up towards the end of last season, and it was clear they were relishing a return to the fray.
Yet, as it proved in the corresponding tie in April, the Richmond back division was seeing plenty of the ball and Kirby, in particular, was beginning to revel.
Backed up by the outstanding Jamie Gibbs, the home wide men began to play with the fluidity favoured by Steve Hill, and they duly struck through inside centre Matt Keville.
The former Loughborough Student, another club to have considerable ‘old boy’ presence on the day, took a short ball off Gibbs to crash over a quarter of the way in, and an 827-strong crowd had reason to cheer; much needed after witnessing a strong Richmond 2nd XV lose to Dave Chalcraft’s Cardinals earlier in the day.
A second Daniels penalty reduced the arrears not long after, which was a pre-cursor to the pivotal section of the game in the ten minutes before half-time.
First Maguire saw yellow for not releasing his man, before Mike Macfarlane followed him minutes later, having been deemed to have taken the law into his own hands. Two men light, Kirby and his crew had their tails up, coupled with a pumped up home crowd plus last week still fresh in the memory; there was work to be done, and plenty of it.
As expected, possession increasingly became the almost exclusive right of the host outfit, who sensed the opportunity to take the game away from their numerically handicapped foe.
Led by Gentles, there was no budging in the black and amber wall, though. Rob Alexander and Will Browne were both ushered out when well placed, and there were some hairy moments in the close quarter battle. But there was a quiet determination to right some wrongs from the defensive performance against Scottish.
Keeping their house in order, it was with some style that Udo-Udoma then registered Esher’s first try of the season. Spencer Sutherland’s big hoist saw him take his team into Richmond territory, and, with quick ball to play with, lovely feet from Whelan left him with just a man to beat, and the ex-Barking man on his shoulder. Udo-Udoma took the pop and wasn’t going to be denied, Esher leading 13-7 at the break.
The reply was swift after the oranges. Talismanic home captain Will Warden went over with the grace of a winger to make it a one point game, and with still the best part of 40 minutes rugby to come, it was anybody’s to take.
Proceedings halted a little after the early gusto that always comes in the early stages of a new season relented, but there was still plenty of intent. Jack Cooke in the Esher midfield sought to move onwards every time he got the ball, with Kirby and Gibbs providing bundles of energy for Richmond.
It was to be Esher who struck next though, as Whelan scored a slick solo effort. Hitting a curving line off Patrick O’Grady, the ex-Plymouth Albion man apparently had all the time in the world to jog in, and with the conversion good, it left Esher eight points ahead – crucial given that Louis Grimoldby was badly struggling with his kicking radar.
The drama wasn’t over, however. Dave Millard was, rightly, sent for some reflective time after illegally checking Gibbs from a quick tap. After the behemoth Doherty went over, followed quickly by an intelligent finish from Alexander, it was 22-23 and Richmond had all the momentum.
As the minutes ticked by and the clock hit zero, Richmond poured forward in search of the winning points, but it wasn’t to be.
In forcing the issue, there was a spillage in midfield, pounced upon by Whelan and Cooke, with the latter nudging ahead when he might have been best advised to keep hold of it. As it was, the bounce deceived the unfortunate Tom Platt, and Sutherland wasn’t going to be asked twice to pick up the scraps. He collected and registered, despite the best efforts of Platt to claw him back.
That was the final act of an excellent spectacle. It says much of Richmond that they were better than in both of the games against Esher last year, and they will be left to rue not making the most of the 24 minutes they had on the afternoon when they had more men on the pitch.
For Ian Kench’s troops, it was job done. Not pretty at times, and certainly with plenty more to come, but a difficult trip negotiated, with plenty of heart and appetite on display for all to see. Those qualities will serve them well over the coming winter months.
It’s back to Hersham HQ next week, as new boys Henley Hawks come to visit. Kick-off for that one is at 3pm.
Richmond: Kirby; Alexander, Moore, Keville, Browne; Grimoldby, Gibbs; Gethings, Phipps, Parkinson; Warden (c), Lenygon; George, Ackroyd, Davies.
Replacements: Doherty for Gethings (37), Davies for Simmons (71), O’Sullivan for George (57), Platt for Kirby (75).
Not used: Nash
Ref: Mr. Nicholas Cockburn