Old Albanian Head Coach Dan George, a participant for much of the second half, pronounced himself disappointed that the result had escaped his charges. Putting a match day group together when over half the playing squad is sidelined mostly for injury is a testing operation.
“The boys should feel very proud of themselves after that performance, especially after shipping so many points in the first quarter” he said. “This is a young outfit and full of talent and the mistakes we made today were, to a large extent overcome. We look forward to the remainder of the season with confidence after coming so close to the League leaders.”
Many Woollams regulars would have staked a fortune that the men from Surrey would have been out of sight by half time and, indeed for twenty minutes, it seemed that would be the case. With the breeze at their collective shoulders the visitors put together a veritable stream of attacks based on strong forward possession allied to dynamic back incursions. Yet it was the big men up front, the ones happy to make the hard yards, who had most of a bearing on the scoreboard at this early stage.
Fraser Wem, a constant threat for the hour he was on the field, was instrumental in his side’s first two tries, allowing Sam Morley’s mazy run to the posts with just three minutes gone and charging through himself just four minutes later. Morley converted his own try.
It seemed OAs were coming to terms with Esher’s power since few tackles were missed. But those that were put a further dent in Albanian hopes. Tight head David Coutts was available to touchdown just into the second quarter and his hooker Charles Crawley finished off with the half hour approaching. Morley improved both, enjoying his side’s bonus point.
Still OAs found the will to advance and much headway was made until errors and needless penalties took the initiative from them. However they were still stationed close to the visitors’ line and Tom Stileman took advantage of a careless pass to cross for the first home points. Dan Watt converted magnificently and repeated the dose when the second tight head of the afternoon, Harry Samuel, benefitted from a powerful catch and drive.
The interval came and went but Ashley Illston, a thorn in Esher’s side all day, tore over wide on the right. The gap narrowed and the visitors took steps to widen it again as another dangerous attack mounted on the OA line out on the right. But not enough care was taken with what might have been the final pass and Kaz Henderson just reached the ball before the White clad winger. Fully eighty metres later he and his team celebrated as Watt’s conversion lowered the margin to a scant two points, both sides now with bonus points and still only halfway through the third quarter.
Players tired on both sides and play became somewhat fractured in midfield. Still Esher found the strength to attempt to make the game safe and two tries in five minutes achieved just that, Cam Wilkins and Crawley again crossing, both scores converted by Morley.
Credit goes to all players who contributed to a magnificent showing in St Albans but it was Dan Watt who had the final say as he touched down amid a flurry of bodies. Greg Lound took the quickest of conversions but no further score was possible.
Peter Winterbottom, the Esher head coach, agreed the spectacle had been more than worth the entrance money. “I believe we have a powerful, well drilled side who made it very difficult for Albanians with such an imposing start. Fair play to OAs they found the will to come back and can be very proud of their performance”.