Savvy Es Edge Out Much-Improved Alton
Sat 22 Oct 2011, 15:00
15 - 23
Ellingham & Ringwood
Two late penalties by Ellingham and Ringwood stand-off John Firkin nips Alton fightback in the bud.
If passion and endeavour won rugby matches, Alton would have strolled this one. They were rumbled by an Ellingham and Ringwood side who also showed passion and endeavour but had a little more savvy and composure when it mattered most.
There was not even the consolation of a losing bonus-point and Alton now prop up London 3 after Purley John Fisher's surprise win over Weybridge Vandals.
A relentlessly physical, occasionally feisty affair saw Alton claw back a 17-3 half-time deficit to trail by just two points with less than a quarter of the game left. However, two late penalties from stand-off John Firkin closed out a game that Es fully deserved to win.
Alton showed more snap, a greater assurance on the ball and in contact, and although they often lacked strength in the tackling, their defence was several notches higher than in previous weeks.
Furthermore, poor availability forced head coach Alun Rise to field players in unfamiliar positions and they exceeded expectations - Jack McEvoy and Matt O'Connor, in particular, had hearts as big as whales' and put in wholehearted performances.
They say that care and diligence bring good luck. For sure, there was certainly plenty of the latter from a patched-up Alton side but their carelessness and tendency to hit the self-destruction button cost them the game.
For the visitors, the back-row trio of Robs - Saltrick, Warren and Mitchell - were simply superb.
Warren on the open-side flank, in particular, was colossal but ultimately it was the cool heads rather than rugby pyrotechnics that ushered the Es through those testing last minutes.
The game started brightly and continued in the same vein. Prop Nick Tyler somehow found himself on the left wing to finish off a sweeping Es move, a lead that was partially cancelled out by a superb touchline penalty into the teeth of the wind from Ed Hubbard, who once again ran the game with aplomb for Alton at 10.
In the final analysis, two moments of Alton self-destruction in the first half decided the outcome of this game.
First, back-chat from a free-kick cost Alton a penalty and ten metres - Es then worked the phases smartly before Saltrick's crossfield break and dummy flummoxed the Alton defence and his pace and strength did the rest.
Then on the stroke of half time, Alton shelled the ball carelessly from a meandering counter-attack and were penalised at the ensuing scrum. Ellingham took the tap, shipped it wide and Alex Lee's darting run from full-back set up a simple score for wing Jamie Sanders.
The visitors were well worth their 17-3 interval lead but Alton, with the wind at their backs, stormed back in the second period.
Jimmy Gay, who was at the heart of most things for Alton, rumbled over for a skipper's try from a line-out catch-and-drive, and then with 16 minutes remaining Will Ford span away from the back of another driving maul to take Alton to within a couple of points.
With Saltrick sin-binned, a 14-man Ellingham regrouped impressively and gradually took the sting out of the game. Firkin was calmness personified, pinning Alton back in their 22 with some raking kicks and forcing them to attack from deep.
They couldn't manage it. When Stephen Johns was pinged for a chest-high tackle on opposite number Nick Osman, Firkin slotted the goal. It was unfortunate for Johns, whose physicality and hefty hits gave Alton's midfield much-needed steel.
Firkin banged over his second penalty after his drop-goal attempt bounced back into play and Alton were penalised in front of their posts for not releasing. That was enough to secure the win and Alton to the bottom of the table. On this showing, however, they shouldn't stay there for long.
Alton: O'Connor; Spencer, Pratt (Williams, 64), Johns, McEvoy; Hubbard, Crowther (Brown, 71); Fleming, Parratt, Gay; Happel, Oliphant; MacDonell, Gerlach, Ford.
Tries: Gay (48), Ford (64);
Penalty: Hubbard (22).
Yellow cards: Parratt (17), MacDonell (70), O'Connor (80).
Ellingham and Ringwood: Lee; Sanders, Turner, Osman, Stewart: Firkin, Spencer; Grant, Budd, Tyler; Levy, Soden; Warren, Mitchell, Saltrick.
Tries: Tyler (18), Saltrick (33), Sanders (40);
Penalties: Firkin (68, 72).
Yellow cards: Saltrick (63), Sanders (70).
Referee: Simon Aldridge (Hampshire Society).
With thanks to ERRFC's Phil Osman for additional information.