Esher confirmed their National League One status for another season with a hard fought bonus point victory over visitors Caldy RFC on Saturday.With the two teams starting the day in 10th and 9th places respectively and both still in need of a positive result, it was the home side who turned in a commanding second half performance to run out 42-28 winners on a sultry spring afternoon at Molesey Road.
The home side opened the scoring with a Basil Strang penalty in the 2nd minute following an early spell of pressure, but the visitors quickly seized the initiative to take the lead just 6 minutes later. An off-the ball scuffle broke out just inside the Caldy half, and when the players had finally been separated from each other, Esher prop Karl Furey was sent to the sin bin for administering what appeared to be a flat-handed slap on his opposite number directly in front of the officials.
Caldy kicked the resulting penalty deep into Esher territory, taking the lineout and spreading the ball to blindside flanker Harrison Crowe who burst through the first line of defence to take his side to within striking distance of the try line.The ball was recycled quickly, creating the platform for fly-half Rhys Hayes to run a good line and sprint over for the first try of the afternoon.Scrum-half Ben Jones added the conversion to make the score Esher 3-Caldy 7 after 9 minutes
Esher replied through another Basil Strang penalty in the 18th minute, before regaining the lead shortly afterwards with their first, and arguably best try of the day.Receiving the ball inside his own half, centre Basil Strang spotted a gap and cut inside, breaking the first tackle and accelerating into the space before finding Andy Garner in support to his right.With the defence closing in, the Esher scrum-half sprinted forwards, drew his man and produced a neat offload to find hooker Billy Harding steaming up on the inside.Harding took the ball at pace, galloping away and outstripping the pursuing defenders to score under the posts from around 25 metres out.Strang added the conversion, taking the score to Esher 13-Caldy 7 in the 28th minute.
The visitors fought back however, and following a spell of pressure and possession in the Esher half, a loose ball was picked up by flanker Crowe who charged forward before being brought down inside the home 22.Caldy spread the ball wide before the Esher defence could realign, resulting in full-back Mark Dixon going over in the left-hand corner to the delight of the large travelling contingent on the mound.Jones added the conversion to give his side a deserved 14-13 lead at half-time.
Ricky Nebbett's men came out firing after the interval, and were promptly back in the lead again after just 5 minutes.Having worked their way into the Caldy half, a long floated pass from flanker Cameron Gentles found Billy Harding on the edge of the 22, who plucked the ball out of the air before making an inside break from a standing start.As Harding was brought down, Basil Strang was on hand to take the pass and weave through the defence to score to the left of the posts.Strang converted his own try, giving Esher a 6 point lead with 45 minutes played.
Esher continued to press forward and were duly rewarded with two more tries in quick succession, with No.8 Harrison Collins powering over from close range in the 48th minute, and flanker Charlie Gossington bringing up the bonus point with an effort under the posts 7 minutes later.The first conversion went wide, but Strang made no mistake with his second attempt, giving Esher a 32-14 lead after 56 minutes.
The Caldy forwards were still posing problems for the Esher defence, carrying well in the loose and gaining territory with some clever running angles to pin the home side back.Having been on the back foot for much of the third quarter, the visitors were now starting to reassert themselves and were soon back on the scoresheet when No.8 Josiah Dickinson capitalised on a mistake from the home side to run through unopposed in the 61st minute.Jones added the conversion, bring the scoreline to Esher 32-Caldy 21.
Esher's response was swift however, as they replied with another converted try of their own 3 minutes later.A stray Caldy pass in front of the posts was gathered in by the Esher forwards, and as the ball was spread towards the right, Esher's front row duo of Karl Furey and Cam Zeiss combined in the midfield like a couple of burly centres.Several phases later and it was prop Zeiss who popped up again on the wing, bulldozing over to score in the corner from close range.Strang added the conversion from the touchline to restore Esher's lead to 18 points.
In amongst all of the drama, there was also a poignant moment for the home supporters when a double substitution in the 68th minute gave them the opportunity to say goodbye to retiring Esher legend Andy Garner, and popular front row enforcer Karl Furey on his last home appearance before returning to New Zealand.
With neither side aware of the other scores around the division, both teams continued to battle away in search of the necessary league points to guarantee their survival, but it was Caldy who came up with the final try of the afternoon, securing a bonus point through an effort from prop Jack Parker in the 76th minute.Jones added the conversion again to make the score Esher 39-Caldy 28.
After a season with an unhealthy amount of last gasp defeats, Esher were taking nothing for granted and continued to pile forward in search of another score to settle the argument.Following a combative final few minutes, the home side were eventually awarded a penalty for their endeavours just beyond the Caldy 10 metre line.Paul Roberts calmly stepped up to stroke the ball through the posts, and the referee's whistle blew to bring a pulsating match to its conclusion.With other results now filtering through, both sides knew that they were safe and could look forward to renewing acquaintances in National League One again next season.
And as the sun broke through the clouds, Esher's home campaign ended as it had begun, with a hard earned bonus point victory and a performance to send the Molesey Road faithful home smiling again.