Esher 29 1stXV 29, Sat Jan 18, National 1
Ampthill travelled to Esher on a dry, overcast day with little wind. Amps squad saw few changes in the starting XV from that which defeated Blackheath. Up front George Thornton started at prop while Karim Lynch started at wing. The bench was much changed, however, with Matt Dawson coming in to cover hooker, Simon Pitfield lock & backrow, Stef Liebenburg scrum half and Fraser Strachan, dual registered with Northampton Saints, making his debut to cover the outside backs.
Sure it’s a cliché but this was the proverbial game of two halves! A’s were fairly dominant in the first outscoring their hosts 4 trys to 2 while Esher were in complete control in the second scoring 19 unanswered points before the visitors managed a draw with the last kick of the game.
Ampthill started the first half well having the best of territory and possession. A 2nd minute inside shoulder ball from scrum half Kevin Barratt saw lock Billy Johnson break 25 metres to touch down under the posts, full back James Pritchard adding the simple conversion.
Esher struck back twice, the first in the 12th minute through prop Karl Furey after the pack drove over from close range and the second on 18 minutes when wing Tom James ghosted past three defenders. Both tries were wide wide out and both conversions failed from home fly half Stephen Boatman although the latter rebounded off a post!
Amps responded with two tries in 7 minutes, first prolific wing Sam Baker touching down in the 21st minute for his twelfth try of the season then A’s Man of the Match Johnson adding his second try, Pritchard converting the latter.
Centre Pete Weightman secured the bonus point in the 39th minute after chasing down a Barratt kick, recovering the ball and crashing over, Pritchard adding the extras to leave the score 10-26 at oranges.
Whatever was said by the respective coaching teams at half time the balance of play completely reversed for the second half. Having been winning the collisions up front and moving the ball well behind the scrum the visitors were coming second all over the pitch as Esher took control.
It was a case of another nightmare for Ampthill’s coaching team as the squad’s poor second half defensive performance of the previous away fixture at Old Albanians was repeated. The home side were ruthless in taking advantage of Amps defensive frailty and really should have taken the win.
On 48 minutes home flanker Charlie Gossington came up with the ball after a catch & drive, Boatman adding the extras.
The 62nd minute saw their hooker Billy Harding cross for an unconverted try followed on 68 minutes by a converted try from wing Caden Murley to see the home side retake the lead 29-26.
A’s redoubled their efforts and were rewarded with an 83rd minute penalty, opting for the penalty goal, Pritchard used all his experience to stroke the last kick of the game between the posts, tie the scores and deny Esher what would have been a deserved victory.
Director of Rugby Mark Lavery commented “For reasons only known by the team we had a déjà vu experience, it was OAs all over again with the home side dominating territory and possession for the half while we appeared to believe that defence was something left at Dillingham Park. To concede 19 unanswered points simply isn’t good enough.
The Coaches have a lot of work to do before the arrival of Bishop Stortford next week and you can guess where that work will be, DEFENCE.”
Tries:- Furey (12), James (18), Gossington (48), Harding (62), Murley (68)
Conversions:- Boatman (49, 79)
Tries:- Johnson (2, 28), Baker (21), Weightman (39)
Conversions:- Pritchard (3, 29, 40)
Penalties:- Pritchard (83)