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Esher 64 Wharfedale 20

November 22nd, 2013

What is it about London? Never Wharfedale’s happiest hunting ground, last Saturday the capital did it again for us, making it the second time this season (the first being our opening match at Richmond) that we have finished a match down to 13 men through injury.

Esher is a great club to visit, on this occasion graced by the soaring rhetoric of Esher’s own John Inverdale and Wharfedale’s own Ian “Adge” Douglass. The welcome we get there is always generous, and there is real friendship between the clubs, not that a neutral would have been able to tell that from the way the home team played.

Theirs is a professional side, professionally managed with a clearly beneficial link with Harlequins, and you just feel that it is only a matter of time before they return to the Championship.

But despite all their skills and youthful exuberance (Kris Chesney is naturally excluded from that remark) it was Wharfedale who took an early lead: Tom Barrett skilfully pushed the game into the corner, and when Esher were penalised at the ensuing scrum – the last which the Greens could in truth say they dominated – he confidently converted the chance.

The writing, however, was soon on the wall, and Wharfedale were repeatedly split apart in midfield and on the wings, both by the forwards led by the hugely impressive open-side flanker Clifford, and by the backs whose fluency and handling skills were on display for all to see. The Green scrum began to be taken apart, and with the early absence with a shoulder injury of Richard Rhodes, winning good set piece ball had become a mere aspiration.

By the fortieth minute Esher had scored five tries and were leading by 29-3. But Barrett again secured excellent field position and at last Wharfedale threatened the home line with an organised drive, from which Solomi squirmed over, Barrett adding the conversion to give the half-time scoreline of 29-10 some kind of respectability.

Reinforced by all their Harlequins, Esher were playing an irresistible brand of high-velocity rugby, as combining great ball skills with crushing domination of the set piece. With three-quarters of the match gone, however, they were ahead by only 29-20, the irrepressible Solomi recalling his days as a centre-threequarter by taking the defence on the outside to score try which Barrett, who had added an early second-half penalty, once again converted with ease.

That was just about that. With our boys – or those who had not already left the pitch injured – out on their feet, Esher moved up a gear and having handed the place-kicking duties to their young fly-half, Wharfedale’ s hopes evaporated. However, as if to keep the home side on their toes, replacement scrum-half Woodhead made repeated sorties into enemy territory, and newcomer Dan Stockdale celebrated his promotion with one telling break, selling a dummy which was bought by not only the Esher side but the entire crowd, before being overhauled just short of the line.

Even greater holes now began to appear in the now grievously depleted Wharfedale defence. Esher’s confidence was now off the scale, and everything they tried, no matter how outrageous, came off. There was an inevitability about their 28 points in the final 16 minutes, to give a most undeserved margin of victory to the home side, and scant reward for the Greens players who to their great credit had turned in some highly commendable performances in the most trying circumstances.

Wharfedale: Whaites; Davies, Donkin, Hodgson, Taylor; Barrett, Gough; Howard, Graham, Tampin, Brown, Rhodes, Mason J, Solomi, Allen. Replacements: Larkin, Altham, Stockdale, Woodhead, Horsfall.

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