OAs’ fight earns bonus points

National League 2 South

Southend 31 Old Albanians 26

A GRIPPING match saw Old Albanians fight to the last ditch at fourth placed Southend and return with two bonus points to show for a bruising afternoon.

As a result, OAs stay in sixth place in the league, five points behind the nearest contender.

The first half saw the profligate side of the Woolams men as they struggled with the intensity and aggression of this high-flying Essex side. The defensive strategy must be up for urgent review as almost directly from the kick off Southend’s two athletic lock forwards wreaked havoc. Lock, Andrew McClintock, surged into OA’s half and on towards the corner for No 4, London Colney-resident Chris Waring, to crash over.

No conversion from full-back, Simon Hoult, but he was OA’s tormentor throughout the half, punishing indiscretions on 16, 25, 37 and 40 minutes to send his side in 17-7 at the interval. These penalties conceded were both a tribute to the home side’s unremitting pressure and an indictment of OAs failure to put together a cohesive counter-attack. Further, two golden opportunities to call up Richard Gregg for simple penalty kicks close to the home side’s try line were spurned for tap-and-go which led nowhere.

At one point in the middle of this half some apparent niggle between the scrum halves, Sam Arnott and Stefan Liebenberg of OAs, threatened to turn unpleasant through the unwelcome intervention of one of the Southend coaching staff, who not only took it upon himself to offer more than just advice to the assistant referee concerned, but was also heard to issue threats to an OA player. Although in earshot, referee Mark Liddell, did not intervene.

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Having endured 35 minutes, at last OAs got a breakthrough when a drive from a lineout on Southend’s five-metre line saw James Ellershaw emerge from a pile of bodies with five points, Gregg converting. At last OAs began to get the measure of the home side’s pressure, and the newly-introduced combination of Liebenberg and No.8 Andy Daish started to whip ball away from the close quarter areas where Southend had previously held mastery. Newcomer Benjamin Patston at fly-half also began to make his kicks tell and gain significant ground, but the half was lost as Southend went in 17-7 ahead.

OA man-of-the-match, Chris Lombaard, nearly did to Southend what McClintock and Waring did to the visitors in the opening minutes of the second half. Seizing loose ball around half-way, he ducked and dived through weak tackles, all the time making ground, and found himself running for the left hand corner flag and in space, five metres out. Cue a neck-high tackle from Arnott, and Liddell had no option but to award a penalty try to OAs.

Buoyed by this, the tenor of the game swung OAs’ way until in the 17th minute, James Ellershaw was on the ground, tripped a player coming through and walked off for a 10 minute self-flagellation session. This allowed Southend to exert monumental pressure on the OA line, as they opted for scrum after scrum when OAs were penalised, culminating in a pushover try in the 25th minute. Not content with that, and with Ellershaw spending what seemed like eternity in the dugout, the try of the game was scored by Southend’s winger Mark Billings as he picked up a loose ball 35 metres out and ran a beautiful arc to bisect the defence and score. Hoult converted both tries to make the score a daunting 31-14.

Then, for all their bristling organisation and hyper approach, the Southend defence fell apart twice in quick succession as firstly Patston beat two men 25 metres out and fed Terry Adams to score – a drop kick converted that one – and Simon Lincoln fed Chris Lombaard in support to score moments later on the right wing. The drop kick failed this time, but OAs finished with four tries, where their hosts had but three, and less than seven points difference in the score, so rode home the moral victors with two precious bonus points.

Among the OAs who can look back on this game with pride will be Terry Adams, the loose forward twins, Jack Micans and Jamie Bache, the Toms Gillings and Laws for taking all the snarl and Stefan Liebenberg for proving just who was the best scrum half. At this festive and emotional time of the year, a tiny teardrop misted over the eye of each and every OA supporter as hooker Greg Botterman was substituted on 50 minutes in his comeback match after an operation and nine months lay-off.

Back to the action following Lombaard’s second try, Southend could see the game slipping away from them and fought back, regaining the intensity of the first half. OAs for their part now had the measure of this approach and held out until an inglorious punch-up between the forwards and sundry bystanders disfigured the proceedings. Referee Liddell had seen enough and blew for full time. The Easter Holiday will be enriched by Southend’s visit to Woolams on April 23 for the return fixture.

OAs: Gregg, May, Adams, Lombaard, Lincoln, Patston, Liebenberg, Ellershaw, Botterman, Laws, Comb �, Gillings, Micans, Bache, Daish

Reps: Cope, Cecere, Lye, Evans, Vinnicombe

The coach taking the firsts and the victorious second team away to Southend together with substitutes drained the club of much playing resource. Both thirds and fourths had bumpy rides, losing to Bury St Edmunds and Old Grammarians, respectively. Well done the fifth team, shading OVs 10-5.