GRIM DAY LIT UP BY QUALITY SHOWING FROM ESHER AND NORTHERN GUESTS
ESHER RUGBY (17) 24
Convs: Daniels (3)
BLAYDON (3) 20
Tries: Kibirige (2), Wearmouth
All the tries from Saturday afternoon can be viewed over on the Club's YouTube channel, with highlights filmed by the excellent Nick Richards.
A thoroughly entertaining spectacle lit up a dreary January afternoon at Molesey Road, as Esher opened up 2014 with a 24-20 win over a Blaydon side which fully played its part in a helter-skelter National One tie.
Home head coach Ricky Nebbett had ensured his men were as ready as they could be post-Christmas break after calling his group back in for training two days before the new year, and the preparation certainly bore fruit as the men in black claimed a fourth straight win.
Nebbett made just one change to his starting roster for the visit of a Blaydon side which had lost just twice since Esher won the fixture between the two teams at Crow Trees back in mid-September. Kris Chesney was reinstated to the second-row after pulling out of the win at Henley at the eleventh hour, with Brandon Walker named amongst the same set of replacements as at Dry Leas, bar Richard Smart.
Despite the forecast threatening heavy rain and gale force winds, the weather gods were seemingly busy elsewhere as the game remained unaffected by the elements, with a slightly damp pitch not proving to be overly onerous.
The game was punctuated by periods of high-tempo, end-to-end action and in conjuring up six tries, was a real watchable affair enjoyed by over 600 folk that had decided to risk being soaked in anticipation of getting their first rugby fix of the year.
A fast start from both packs saw Blaydon eventually hit a consistent groove first, as they sought to move their opponents around. Led by the vastly experienced Andrew Baggett at fly-half, they had the perfect lieutenant in which to mix up their plays and patterns.
The home defence, as wing Spencer Sutherland alluded to in his post-match interview, ‘enjoyed’ their rearguard efforts and after soaking up plenty of pressure, duly inched their way up the park.
Setting up camp five metres from the Blaydon whitewash and with Robbie Shaw demanding quick ball, Mickey Wilson found himself in midfield and with plenty of runners on his left. Weighing up the options open to him in a heartbeat, the summer signing opted to have a go himself. With a shuffle of his feet, he slid past his man to glide under the posts untouched, giving Daniels the easiest of shots at goal.
The joy was short lived as Kris Chesney was sent to the bin minutes later after illegally pouncing on Jonny Burn from a line-out, which result in a rather ugly but inconsequential throwing of a few handbags, and the ‘red boys’ took the opportunity to swing the pendulum back their way.
As it was, despite seeing plenty of the ball in the right areas, the northerners only had a Baggett penalty to show for their endeavours in the period that Chesney away from the hustle and bustle, and that three-pointer was swiftly cancelled out by a huge, 40m thump from the precocious talent that is Daniels.
Restored to their full quota, Esher finished the half well on top and, on another day, may have picked up a four-try bonus point before the interval.
Mike Macfarlane rampaged through the Blaydon midfield only for Cheeseman to drop his offload with a run to the line beckoning, before Sutherland was put in from a set-piece move involved Macfarlane, Shaw and Daniels. Talking of precocious, Zack Kibirige is a name to keep an eye out for, with the Newcastle Falcons youngster destined for great things. He ushered Sutherland into touch at the last, but the former Coventry winger was honest in his appraisal at full-time in acknowledging he should have scored.
Half breaks from him and Alex Bibic soon had the home crowd’s anticipation levels going through the roof, though it wasn’t until right on the whistle that Blaydon finally cracked. Wilson shuffled his way through again, and Cheeseman made no mistake this time around. The centre crashed over with man and ball, giving his side a healthy 17-3 lead.
The visitors served notice on resumption of play that they were far from finished. Tom Jeffrey and Kibirige engineered a cute interchange on the Esher left flank to swathe through, and Kibirige galloped in to touch down and cut the arrears. Jeffrey, built like a back five forward but a real menace in the open spaces, grew in confidence from that moment, with the Blaydon back division visibly gaining in stature as the game pressed on.
Esher were forced deeper and deeper as Micky Ward’s side poured forward and it was Kibirige who struck again. With the tightest of angles to work with, the ex-England U18 international wriggled his way out of a tackle to register and it was just reward for his team’s commitment to play in a more fluid style.
Baggett couldn’t improve either score and in ‘real’ terms, that was the difference. Andy Wright’s try, instigated by the deftest of offloads out of the tackle from the rapidly improving Simon Edwards, would have quelled the appetite of a lesser side, but not Blaydon. With the game breaking up and becoming a real slug-fest, fingernails began to be chewed, and you could hear lungs working overtime.
From 22 to 22 the action went, heads in the crowd moving as they would to watch a rally on Centre Court at Wimbledon. Esher twice coughed up possession when inches short, and they were made to pay when Chris Wearmouth was pushed over from a couple of metres to set up a grandstand finish. Blaydon threw absolutely everything at their hosts in the dying seconds to claim the victory, but they were met with a silent, stubborn wall of men not about to have their party rained upon.
Coughing up a penalty in the middle of the Esher half was the end for a Blaydon side that has obviously come on leaps and bounds in recent months, and they will play a big part in deciding where the silverware goes come May.
Esher will feel they did just about enough to deserve the win with their maturing defence, bar a lapse or two, and some expertly taken tries and place kicking being the difference. They had their chances to add more, carving open Blaydon on at least two occasions and that they failed to take them will frustrate the coaching unit. Had they done so, it would have been harsh on Blaydon but thoughts now turn to the visit to Old Albanians next Saturday.
Kick-off for that one is at 2.15pm.
Not used: Whelan
Sin bin: Chesney (20)
Blaydon: Kibirige; Barber, Penny, Banks, Jeffrey; Baggett, Burn; Kalbraier, Entressengle, Ward; Wearmouth, Jones; Laughlin (c), Morris, Smithson.
Replacements: Hallam for Ward (31), Young for Entressengle (71), Bate for Banks (69), Davies for Burn (41), Kibirige for Bramwell (57).
Ref: Mr. Shane Lewis