PERFECT SEPTEMBER AS ESHER COMPLETE UNBEATEN OPENING MONTH
@MSSher1 at Molesey Road
ESHER RUGBY (21) 31
Convs: Daniels (4)
OLD ALBANIAN (10) 10
An efficient performance from Esher saw them complete the opening month of the 2013-2014 season unbeaten, with a gutsy Old Albanian side defeated by four tries to one at Molesey Road.
After an impressive win at Blaydon a week ago, Esher went into the game as one of a handful of sides still unbeaten, and, after the completion of round four games on Saturday, are now one of only three teams to have won their opening quartet of ties, alongside Doncaster Knights and Coventry.
Despite falling behind to an early penalty from Lawrence Rayner, the hosts found their feet relatively quickly thereafter on a brisk Saturday afternoon in Surrey, and, after putting together a number of phases up front, the opening try of the day duly arrived.
Sucking in defenders from all quarters, the pack ate up OA territory before quick ball away from the mass of bodies eventually found Luke Daniels. The full-back, still just 21, was not going to be denied from a few metres out, and continued his rich vein of point scoring form. After storming to prominence in Esher’s final year in the Championship, the St Mary’s University student has been a revelation, and will be looking to add to the honours he collected with the England Counties U20s side 18 months ago.
Those who were fortunate enough to have watched this fixture exactly a year ago were treated to one of the games of the season, as Esher won a try-laden encounter, 54-41. The OA side that day were marshalled by one of the sharpest attacking minds outside the top tier in James Shanahan and despite his summer departure to Plymouth Albion, it was clear that the men from St Albans were still more than capable of cutting loose.
Rayner was a willing pivot, with the vastly experienced Stef Liebenberg a constant threat, always thinking two moves ahead. Their stand-out performer, though, was hooker Brett MacNamee. The hooker kept running and running, and got through an immense amount of work, making yardage every time he got his hands on the ball. He typified the workmanlike nature of an OA side that saw plenty of the ball but, unlike the XV that played at Molesey Road 12 months prior, lacked the sharpness in mind to think outside of the box.
Numerous waves of white shirts were repelled by their opponents in black – Neil Sweeney and Cameron Gentles, in particular, relishing the battle – but OAs were eventually to get their reward, and it was Liebenberg who scored their only try of the match. A mix up at the base of the scrum, from their own put in, put the hosts in bother and with Liebenberg sniffing around like a stray looking for scraps, Esher were punished.
There was no panic in Ian Kench’s side as they continued to stick to their principles, and two tries in quick succession before the interval would eventually deliver the fatal blow to OA hopes.
Ashley Smith, rejuvenated since his move into the No.13 jersey, was put away by the Esher Supporters Club man-of-the-match, Tom Whelan, after a catalogue of errors in the middle of the park, before the otherwise dependable Rayner, along with Chris May, made a hash of a Tom Cheeseman dink ahead. Neither was able to collect cleanly, allowing the on-rushing Daniels to gobble up the loose ball and race over unopposed. That saw Esher head in for their energy drinks 21-10 to the good, and confidence swimming through them.
Urged on by their faithful, it wasn’t long before the fourth score was delivered, Whelan once again at the heart of it. Thriving on quick ball, the summer recruit made the most of his big pals up front drawing in OA defenders, and then hitting his runners out wide. The overlap saw Andy Wright with the opportunity to score, and despite a valiant effort from Lawrence White to catch him, there was more chance of Christmas Day being cancelled than there was of the big wing bombing the opportunity.
Daniels added a further penalty as the half disintegrated after that, but both teams still got through plenty of work.
Sweden international Andy Daish wasn’t shy in coming forward after his introduction to the fray with half-hour to go, raising the question of just why he wasn’t introduced sooner, with former Leicester Tiger Camilo Parilli Ocampo also creating holes after stepping up from the bench.
England Students No.8 Matt Chambers had the best chance of the half for OAs, but knocked on inches out, with Daniels, Wright and Cheeseman then combining superbly up the other end, only for the latter to be bumped into touch; if the Welshman had crossed, you’d have heard the roar from across the Severn.
Lloyd Bickle was binned late on for persistent infringements, but it was never going to change the outcome. Notwithstanding a late injury scare for the once again outstanding Ian Kench, it was a very satisfactory afternoon for Esher against opponents who will continue to get better as the season progresses.
Next up is a trip to Yorkshire, and the picturesque Threshfield ground. Beautiful, yes, but a robust Wharfedale team await, as well as a passionate White Rose crowd. After succumbing to an 18-15 defeat to Jon Feeley’s charges early on last year, it’s clear another major challenge awaits Esher on their foray north.
Please note that kick-off time for that one has been brought forward to 2pm, after being originally scheduled for 3pm.
Not used: Edwards
Old Albanian: Gregg; Speirs, Lombaard, Vass, May; Rayner, Liebenberg (c); Hughes, MacNamee, Staff; Bickle, Hamilton; Johnson, White, Chambers.
Replacements: Cope for MacNamee (66), Parilli Ocampo for Staff (46), Daish for Hamilton (51), Boshoff for Rayner (70), Smith for Gregg (56).
Sin bin: Bickle (66)
Ref: Mr. Philip Davies