Esher 23 - 25 Loughborough Students

Esher slipped to another close defeat at Molesey Road on Saturday, losing by a 2 point margin for the second week in a row to visitors Loughborough Students.On an afternoon when a win would have gone a long way to securing Esher's National League One status for another season, it was the visitors who overturned a 14 point deficit to earn a 25-23 victory and give their own survival hopes a vital boost.

The hosts got off to the perfect start when flanker Cameron Gentles, making his first home appearance for several months following a long-term injury, barged over to score from close range.Fly-half Basil Strang added the conversion to give Esher a 7 point lead after just 2 minutes.

Things got even better for the home side just moments later, when scrum-half Andy Garner scooped up a dropped pass on the Loughborough 10 metre line before making a darting break down the right hand touchline.As the defence closed in, Garner fed the ball to wing Joe Beckett who cut inside and weaved his way towards the line at pace.Beckett was tackled just short, but was able to reach out and ground the ball over the try-line to secure Esher's second score of the afternoon.Strang added a tricky conversion to make the score after 5 minutes Esher 14-Loughborough Students 0.

Any thoughts of a big score and a comfortable afternoon for the home side were quickly dispelled however, as the visitors replied with their first try of the afternoon in the 7th minute.Stealing the ball from an Esher lineout midway inside the home half, a powerful line break brought Loughborough to within a few metres of the try line.The ball was recycled quickly before the Esher defence had time to realign, creating the platform for prop Owen Hills to crash over and score.Fly-half Owen Waters slotted the conversion to bring the score to Esher 14-Loughborough Students 7.

Esher then racked up two penalties through the boot of Strang to extend their lead to 13 points, before Waters reduced the arrears with a penalty of his own in the 30th minute.

The visitors were beginning to enjoy their best spell of the match by this stage, and were soon on the scoresheet again when full-back Timothy Bitirim made a scything break from deep within his own half.Bitirim glided past several would-be tacklers before eventually being brought down in the Esher 22, but quick ball allowed flanker Tomas Refell to finish the move and score to the right of the posts.Waters added the conversion to make the score Esher 20-Loughborough Students 17 after 34 minutes.

Loughborough started the second period well, testing the Esher defence with a series of carries and drives in the opening few minutes, but the home side defended resiliently before turning the ball over and working their way into the visitor's half.Fly-half Strang missed a penalty in the 47th minute, but was soon presented with another shot at goal just one minute later, which he duly converted to increase Esher's lead by 3 points.

Esher missed another penalty in the 50th minute as they continued to exert pressure in the visitor's half, but when a further penalty was awarded 6 minutes later they finally opted to use the strong cross-field wind and kick for the corner.The resulting lineout in the Loughborough 22 was overthrown however, missing the Esher jumpers before being gratefully seized on by the visiting defence who promptly launched a counter-attack by punting the ball up the field.There still seemed little danger for the home defence at this point, but as the ball landed in the Esher half it somehow bounced away from the covering defenders and back towards the oncoming Loughborough backs.Having regathered possession, the visitors quickly spread the ball wide and showed some deft handling skills to field two consecutive dipping passes, before putting full-back Bitirim over to score in the corner.The conversion went wide, but Esher's lead had now been cut to just 1 point with 58 minutes played.

Having turned defence into attack, Loughborough were starting to impose themselves on the game again, and when a scrum wheeled on the Esher 22 the referee decided that the home side had transgressed and awarded a penalty to the right of the posts.Waters stepped up to slot the kick and give his side the lead for the first time after 68 minutes.

Esher battled back in search of a winning score, working their way into the Loughborough 22 with around 5 minutes left on the clock.The visitors defended resolutely, but as the ball was spread wide to the left-hand touch line, replacement fly-half Paul Roberts spotted a gap and threaded a delicate kick through for wing Ben Loader to chase.For a moment it seemed as if Loader might just get on the end of the kick, but the ball skidded off the turf and rolled agonisingly over the dead-ball line to end the move.From that point onwards, both sides continued to throw everything at each other in a tense final few minutes, but it was Loughborough who held on to close out the victory.

On what turned out to be a frustrating afternoon for the home side, Esher will no doubt feel that with greater composure and basic execution they could have been reflecting on a hard-earned win, but on the day it was the extra dynamism and cutting edge of Loughborough Students which ultimately proved the difference.


Match Report Saturday 7th April 2018 by Philip Wigley

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