Barnes 6 Esher 16

National Division Two South

Saturday January 29

TRIES from Fergus Donnelly and Tom Mitchell set up Esher for a vital month in their promotion bid.

They had to battle hard past Barnes before being certain of an 11th straight victory in National Division Two South but deserve to enter February in confident mood, hosting Guernsey on Saturday in a rearranged match.

Dry and mild weather might have set the stage for running rugby but the wide open spaces of Barn Elms ensured that a stiff breeze was the dominant factor.

Barnes had it in their favour for the first half, a considerable advantage with the kicking prowess of Rob Kirby in their ranks. The former Esher full-back went on to become Richmond’s record points-scorer before stepping down last year, his ability to hit the target from much of the pitch always a concern to opponents.

Kirby was off target from his first attempt, on five minutes, the Elmbridge side’s already lengthy injury list becoming even more serious when prop Matt Lowes was forced off soon after.

But it was the visitors who went in front on 11 minutes, a burst of pace from Sam Morley setting up centre Fergus Donnelly to go over just inside the corner flag on the left, although the fly-half could not complete a tough conversion.

Kirby struck with a penalty from just inside his own half eight minutes later, failing to make the most of an opportunity from rather closer on the half-hour but then compensating with another from distance moments later to put the hosts 6-5 in front.

But with try-scoring opportunities sparse, Morley recovered his dead ball precision to send Esher back in front as the interval beckoned, centre Jordan Souter’s illegal tackle not only conceding the penalty but costing him 10 minutes in the sinbin.

With the wind now in their favour, and strengthening as the match wore on, Esher spied the route to victory yet found it difficult to unlock the Barnes defence. That it was a tight match was no surprise, having shared a 17-17 draw in October.

Much of the match was confined to the Barnes half, another Morley penalty after the 50 minutes the sole reward. Esher did not help themselves by kicking away possession frequently but were missing the inventiveness of full-back Jack Lavin, who had dropped out with illness, and when breaks were made lacked the cohesion to utilise them. His replacement, Tom Mitchell, was frequently into the action and effectively sealed the match on 67 minutes by going over wide on the left for an unconverted score.

It's rare this season that Esher have not gone on to claim a bonus point but they could find no further way round the stout home defence and had to settle for four points. That enabled Clifton to inch ahead by one point at the top following a 28-15 victory at Hinckley, although they have played two more matches.

Guernsey will arrive at Molesey Road in eighth place, being followed seven days later by Henley (fifth), a trip to mid-table Hinckley followed by hosting third-placed Redruth on February 26.

Fixtures – February 5: Guernsey (H); 12: Henley (H); 19: Hinckley (A); 26: Redruth (H); March 5: Clifton (A); 12: Westcliff (H); 19: Worthing (A); 26: Albanian (A); April 2: Guernsey (A); 9: Bury St Edmunds (H); 16: Canterbury (A); 23: Worthing (H); 30: Rochford (A).