‘DALE FULL OF RUNNING AS ESHER SUFFER FROM NUMERICAL HANDICAP
ESHER RUGBY (20) 26
Tries: Macfarlane, Penalty
Convs: Daniels (2)
WHARFEDALE (14) 28
Tries: Donkin (2), Prell, Stockdale
Convs: Barrett (4)
A hungry, energetic Wharfedale side took full advantage of Esher’s lack of discipline, with four yellow cards – including two for Alex Bibic – severely handicapping the hosts as they suffered a 28-26 loss.
With last week’s tame reversal at Old Albanian still fresh in the mind of players and supporters, the start against high-flying ‘Dale was always going to be vital. Mike Macfarlane’s fifth minute score settled the nerves, but the afternoon was to slowly unravel into an ultimately uncomfortable one for Esher.
A brace of tries from Joe Donkin, as well as efforts from winger Josh Prell and hooker Dan Stockdale not only gave the ‘Green Machine’ a bonus point win but also inflicted a second straight defeat on Esher. To further rub salt in the wounds, fellow promotion hopefuls Doncaster Knights also succumbed, at Fylde.
Ricky Nebbett had moved in the week to secure the services of experienced London Welsh man Billy Moss and despite only having trained with his new teammates once, the shaven headed prop shored up an Esher scrum that was given a tough ride in Hertfordshire a week ago.
At the Woollams, Esher were put on the back foot from the very early exchanges and with a thorough debrief having taken place in mid-week, it was clear the men in black and amber were not going to make the same mistake again.
A compact start saw them take the lead through the boot of Luke Daniels, and it was the 22-year-old who went on to instigate the opening try of the afternoon.
Breaking elegantly from his own half, the full-back realised the opportunity was on to have a go at a flat-footed ‘Dale defence, and swarmed down the left hand flank at a rate of knots. With support on both sides, the ball was transferred in-field, seeing the excellent Pete Synnott pop up in midfield along with fellow back-row man Macfarlane. The No.8 had only one thing on his mind and he put his foot on the gas, fully exploiting the gap in front of him. He was never going to be caught and raced home to slide in under the posts. Daniels’ conversion capped the perfect start and last week’s wobble was all but vanquished.
Urged on by a sizeable travelling supporting contingent, Jon Feeley’s side were never going to suffer the ignominy of a year ago when they were on the end of a 64-20 thrashing. This Wharfedale side are a vastly different proposition, controlled expertly by the assured Tom Barrett at fly-half, backed up by the calming influence of ex-England utility back Dan Scarbrough and an outstanding back-row in Jack Barnard, Aaron Myers and Rob Baldwin.
They slowly found their feet after Macfarlane’s early stinger and arguably dominated possession for the remainder of the half. The prolific Barrett missed, for a man of his ability, a very gettable penalty 15 minutes in and though the Esher defence remained in control, without a continued run of ball, they were always vulnerable to a ‘Dale back line beginning to warm to their task.
Synnott was binned moments after Barrett’s missed kick to raise a few alarms among the home faithful and that was the catalyst for ‘Dale to finally make their possession tell.
Barrett hit the line at pace from a cleanly executed line-out and sucking in men all around him, delivered a perfect pass to Joe Donkin on his outside. The centre came in on the most accurate of angles and had plenty of room to sprint home. It was all delivered before you could blink an eye, but notice had definitely been served that the visitors were going to stand toe-to-toe with their hosts.
Esher recovered sufficiently enough to not concede further before Synnott could re-enter the fray and indeed should have had their second just after the flanker’s return. Macfarlane made a typically lung-busting break from his own 22 deep into ‘Dale territory, provided support on his inside from captain Neil Sweeney, and winger Ashley Smith on his outside. The pass never came either way and a clear opportunity went begging.
A second Daniels three-pointer briefly calmed the nerves but it only stung Wharfedale into action once again. Barrett was again the creator, scorching through a porous Esher line, course set firmly to the white line. He was halted just short, though still had the presence of mind to produce an outstanding one-handed pass, whilst falling, to Donkin. He made no mistake and, to quote the great Tommy Cooper, ‘Dale were ahead ‘just like that’.
It sparked a frenzied period just before the break that saw Myers sent to the bin for illegally halting an Esher attack, and there was time for Sweeney’s men to inch back into the lead. Huge surges from the larger units up top were withstood a couple of times, illegally in the mind of referee Tom Davis, and the man in blue did not hesitate to award a penalty try. ‘Dale can count themselves a little unfortunate at a surprisingly prompt decision, but that was just the start of it.
The contest was not one for the faint hearted as collisions – on and off the ball – continued apace in the second period. Synnott was seeing plenty of it, hell bent on making ground every time he got his hands on the ball and Kris Chesney put in one of his best performance in an Esher jersey in terms of open play impact.
Esher were dealt a real blow when Daniels’ afternoon was ended with a hamstring pull very early on after the re-start, pushing Freddie Strange, who made his senior debut last week, into a cauldron that was more than spitting. The summer recruit from Bath University did not look out of place and he may have a very important part to play in the weeks ahead.
Mickey Wilson shot over a penalty to get the scoreboard moving again and at 23-14, the game plan should have been to shut up shop. Smith’s dislocated thumb threw another spanner in the works, prompting the introduction of Tom Whelan and a slight re-jig of resources in the back line.
‘Dale remained focused on the task in hand and, bit by bit, deservedly clawed their way back. Spencer Sutherland and Alex Bibic were dispatched by Davis within a couple of minutes of one another after a number of altercations which could have, on another day, seen at least one ‘Dale body join them. The numerical advantage was to prove decisive.
Dan Stockdale’s surge took his side into the Esher 22 and after enveloping their counterparts in the tight, it was swung wide to give Josh Prell the easiest of finishes. Barrett was back into the swing of things, reducing the arrears to just two at 23-21.
Wilson hit the upright after an ‘against the odds’ scrum from Esher, though he soon rectified it a minute later. This time bang in front, Wilson, now in the centres, was not going to miss and with Sutherland re-instated, the stage was set for a humdinger of a finish.
That didn’t transpire as Bibic’s send yellow card handed a permanent advantage to ‘Dale. Seemingly for a dangerous hit at a ruck, Davis consulted with the tough judge before showing the tall lock forward red and with him went home hopes.
Stockdale was pushed over by his colleagues from a rock-solid set-piece that eventually ended in an unstoppable maul to the line, Barrett nailing his fourth conversion of the afternoon. It was all to do if Esher weren’t going to fall to a second home defeat of the season.
They gave it everything, with Synnott leaving everything he had out on the park and, somehow, with the last play of the game, Esher won a penalty just right of the posts and a few metres into the ‘Dale half. Wilson stepped up as absolute silence descended on Molesey Road but he slipped on connection, the football landing well short. Donkin was on hand to collect and hoof it into touch to complete a memorable afternoon for the men from Threshfield, only leaving more questions for Nebbett and his coaching staff.
Plenty will be made of the contribution from the team of three officials. Esher will feel aggrieved, at the same time knowing they still had it in them to take something from the game. ‘Dale may have incurred the wrath of Davis and that they didn’t isn’t something that they should be held to account for. They were every bit as tenacious, ambitious and vibrant as they were in the game up in Yorkshire and showed the ruthlessness that Esher will be looking to regain, quickly.
Next up is a trip to Blackheath, who are fighting for their lives in National One. Kick-off at the Rectory Field next Saturday is at 3pm.
Sent off: Bibic (70)
Wharfedale: Scarbrough; Jordan, Donkin, Tom Davidson, Prell; Barrett, Woodhead; Steel (c), Stockdale, Armstrong; Brown, Burridge; Barnard, Myers, Baldwin.
Replacements: Mason for Brown (77).
Not used: Dickinson, Howard, Dudman, Will Davidson
Sin bin: Myers (39)
Ref: Mr. Tom Davis