By Tim March and Kevin Westlake at Molesey Road
Albion made a number of enforced changes for their National League match against Esher on Saturday, with new signing Harrison Cully starting for the injured Dean Squire, Tom Hendrickson recalled by Exeter and prop Dan Pullinger replacing Marcus Street.
Both teams started slowly, with the game scoreless until the 20th minute when Tom Whitehurst crossed for the hosts and fly half Paul Roberts added the extras.
Within a minute, Albion responded with a try of their own through Sam Daly, who burst through a number of defenders to score brilliantly. Dan Mugford converting his first of the day to bring the scores level at 7-7.
On 27 minutes, Albion took the lead through scrum half Cameron Setter, who darted over. Mugford successfully converted from out wide.
From the next kick off, Albion made a break when winger Matt Crosscombe blasted his way through Esher’s defences to run in from the 10 metre line. Mugford’s conversion took Albion 21-7 ahead and, seemingly, in control of the game.
The Surrey club had other plans and scored soon after. The conversion was added by Paul Roberts.
On the stroke of half time, Esher brought the score level with Dan Rowland making a barnstorming run down the left, and Roberts duly adding the extras.
HALF TIME 21-21
The second half started as the first ended, with frenetic play from both sides. Albion drew first blood with Crosscombe’s second try of the match securing the visitors’ bonus point.
Esher were soon back in the game, with Cameron Zeiss burrowing over on the right following a period of sustained pressure. Roberts missed the conversion, taking the game to stalemate once more, at 26-26.
Albion were then penalised right in front of the posts for not releasing at the ruck. Roberts stepped up and slotted the three points as Esher took the lead 29-26 in a back and forth affair.
Albion’s Joe Snow picked up the next try with a neat pick and go from the back of a ruck, followed by a lovely dummy and step. Fly half Mugford made the conversion to take the score to 29-33.
Just eight minutes remained, but the game was far from over. What followed was furious attack and defence from both sides, with Esher pushing Albion try line until the very end. A galvanised defence and some great tackling from Seta Raumakita stopped the Esher advances.
It was Mugford who put the ball into the grandstand to end the encounter in which both sides played some good rugby, despite high penalty counts.
Head coach Kieran Hallett said: ““I think anyone who turned up today got their money’s worth. Let’s just say I have a few more grey hairs after this game!
“Esher like to play fast and loose and are a dangerous side when they get it right. Their attack was very good today and they caused us some problems.
“It’s great that we have come out on top and it sets us up well going into the New Year, but there were areas of our game that should have been a lot better, especially in defence.
“We should not be conceding that many points and there is still lots for us to work on.”
Overall, Hallett is pleased with his team’s end-of-year league position: “We had a couple of tight games – the two we drew and the two we lost by a point. Looking at where we are now, it might be where I would have liked to have been if we had turned a few of those over – it would be a fair reflection. But with the injuries we have had and with the guys who haven’t been available, I think we have done very well to be in the position we are in.”
“Whether we can catch Coventry or not is not really our thought process. We are still focusing on developing this young group. Yes, we would have liked to have been at the top of the table at this point, but I think we are in really good place.
“Herbie (Stupple) should be coming back in in the next couple of weeks. All of a sudden that experience comes back in and we’ll see what happens.”
Albion remain third in the National League One table following bonus point wins for Coventry and Darlington Mowden Park against Birmingham Moseley and Hull Ionians respectively.
Kieran Hallett’s side now head into the Christmas break with Bishop’s Stortford due to visit Brickfields on January 6 and an away trip to basement club Fylde on January 13.
Hallett’s men will have to hope that Coventry slip up in the new year and that they can continue their current run of form.
Esher: 1 Karl Furey, 2 Billy Harding, 3 Cameron Zeiss, 4 Ollie Marriott, 5 Hugo Seccombe, 6 Josh Basham, 7 Tom Whitehurst, 8 Isaac Curtis Harris, 9 Andy Garner, 10 Paul Roberts (C), 11 Ben Loader, 12 Daniel Rowland, 13 Cadan Murley, 14 Joe Beckett, 15 Lloyd Davies
Replacements: 16 Matthew Lowes, 17 Devlin Hope, 18 Cameron Leigh, 19 Stephen Boatman, 20 Harry Forrest
Albion: 15 Matt Shepherd, 14 Matt Crosscombe, 13 Seta Raumakita, 12 Harvey Skinner, 11 Harrison Cully, 10 Dan Mugford, 9 Cameron Setter, 1 Luke Chapman, 2 Jamie Salter, 3 Dan Pullinger, 4 Sean Lonsdale, 5 John Kelly, 6 Ed Holmes, 7 Sam Daly, 8 Eoghan Grace (C).
Replacements: 16 Jack Owlett, 17 Rupert Freestone, 18, George Mills, 19 Jordan Gott, 20 Joe Snow
Esher – Whitehurst, Furey, Rowland, Zeiss
Albion – Daly, Setter, Crosscombe (2), Snow
Conversions: Esher: Roberts (3)
Albion: Mugford (4)
Penalties: Esher – Roberts
Man of the match: Cameron Setter