Esher fought their way to a third consecutive victory on Saturday, overcoming visitors Old Redcliffiians a thrilling contest to seal a late 30-26 bonus point win at Molesey Road.
On a bright and mild October afternoon, it was the away side who started the game at a furious pace as they went on the attack from the first whistle, breaking down the right-hand touchline in the opening minute before setting up camp in the Esher 22. The visitors went on to dominate possession for much of the first quarter, eventually making the breakthrough when the referee awarded a penalty try in the 23rd minute after a strong Old Reds scrum had the Esher pack in trouble on the try line. Prop Cam Leigh was also shown a yellow card for his part in the offence.
Esher cut the deficit with a Tristan Roberts penalty just after the restart, but the visitors responded with their second try in the final minute of the sin bin period through hooker Kieran Ward. Kicking a penalty into the Esher 22, the Old Reds forwards gathered the ball and drove towards the line, creating the platform for Ward to cut through a gap in the defence and dive over to score.The conversion fell short, leaving the visitors with a 12-3 lead after 33 minutes.
With Esher now back up to a full complement, the home side were finally managing to get a foothold in the game and exert some pressure of their own.A sharp break from centre James Chaumeton brought them into the Old Reds' 22, before Jack Walsh thought he'd scored after gathering a charged down kick close to the line, only to be called back by a late whistle for an offside decision. The hosts were not to be kept out for long however, as prop Matt Lowes bundled his way over to score from close range on the stroke of halftime following another spell of possession in the Old Reds 22.The attempted conversion drifted wide of the post, to leave the halftime score at Esher 8-Old Redcliffians 12.
As the second half kicked off, the home side were throwing the ball around at pace as they looked to raise the tempo after a flat first half performance, but a dropped pass inside the Esher half handed possession straight back to the visitors.From the resulting scrum, the Old Reds backs shipped the ball quickly down the line to send winger James Clements over for a well worked try in the right-hand corner. Centre Jermaine Jones added the conversion to extend his side's lead to 11 points with 44 minutes on the clock.
Having been rocked by the early second half score, Esher responded well as they regained possession and set about clawing their way back into the game with some aggressive work from the forwards.After a steadying spell of ball retention, the home side battled their way back into the visitors' 22, working through the phases before flanker Ben Davies eventually crashed over from close range under the posts. Roberts added the conversion to reduce the deficit back down to 4 points after 52 minutes.
Things got even better for the hosts just 2 minutes later, when No.8 Rob Dudley-Jones made a break from within his own half, rounding the first defender and charging over the visitors' 10 metre line before finding replacement scrum-half Sam Bullock in support to his right. With Bullock brought down inside the visitors' 22, Esher recycled the ball quickly at the ensuing ruck, pounding away at the line until Bullock popped up again on the right to dive over and score. The conversion was short, but Esher now held the lead for the first time all afternoon.
The momentum shifted back towards the visitors again however, as the Old Reds forwards regained possession after the restart and muscled their way back into the Esher 22 with a succession of powerful drives and carries. Esher centre Lennox Anwanyu looked to have pulled off a try saving tackle on the line, but as the ball went loose in the contact Old Reds flanker Dan Fry was on hand to dive under the posts to score his side's bonus point try. Jones added another conversion to give the visitors a 6 point lead with 16 minutes left to play.
With the game entering the closing stages, Esher launched a sustained attack deep into Old Reds' territory, eventually resulting in a yellow card for replacement front row Josh Rasor for an offence at the breakdown in the 70th minute.The pressure from the home side was relentless as they went in search of a winning score, but it looked as if the chance had gone when an overthrown lineout in the visitors' 22 handed back possession with 5 minutes to go.
Esher were not to be denied however, as full-back Calum Monks fielded a clearance kick and beat the first man before racing back into the Old Reds' half with a searing break.The Esher forwards promptly piled into their opponents, drawing in the defence with a barrage of bruising carries as they drew ever closer to the line.With the visitors committing more and more bodies to the breakdown, an overlap finally appeared from which wing Tom James dodged the last man to run in under the posts for Esher's bonus point try. Roberts made no mistake with the conversion to give Esher a 1 point lead again with just 3 minutes remaining.
The visitors threw the ball around from the restart as a frantic final few minutes ensued, but Esher showed good composure in defence to close the game out and earn a penalty in front of the posts with the last play of the match. Roberts duly slotted the kick to the relief of the home crowd, sealing a hard fought win over an impressive Old Redcliffians side to keep Esher in touch with the early season pacesetters.