Esher 27 Guernsey Raiders 24

National Division Two South

Saturday, February 5

SPEARHEADED by Sam Morley’s superb performance, Esher had to dig out into their reserves of fight and self-belief before they could overcome Guernsey and claim top spot.

Taking advantage of Henley’s 43-21 defeat at Redruth, the Elmbridge side came from behind to claim their 12th consecutive victory in an exciting clash at Molesey Road on Saturday.

Just as they had done at Barnes a week earlier, Esher had to be content with four points rather than five and Raiders deserved their own share of the spoils for claiming four tries, outscoring their hosts, three of them to wing Anthony Armstrong.

Now Peter Winterbottom’s side have a cushion of two points at the top, with a game in hand over the three sides below them, which could prove invaluable over the next few weeks.

They host Henley on Saturday, the last side to beat them, back on October 9, and may well need to rediscover their best for that tough match.

That is followed by a visit to Hinckley before entertaining second-placed Redruth on February 26 and a trip to Clifton (third) on March 5. If their long unbeaten run is still intact then, Es will be in very good shape to finish in the top two promotion slots.

Fly-half Morley is a key factor in that happening, going close to monopolising the scoring for the hosts and opening his account with a penalty on six minutes.

Straight back onto the attack, Esher’s intense pressure forced a penalty try four minutes later as they looked to be rediscovering the fluency in attack which has been missing of late in going 10-0 ahead.

Guernsey had arrived – two months after their scheduled visit had to be postponed – boasting 10 victories in 15 outings and halved the lead on 14 minutes as Armstrong started to show what a danger he would be, making a dexterous interception inside the home half and racing over, although the conversion was missed.

An injury to centre James Chaumeton forced Esher to rearrange their back division, Jack Lavin – returning from a knock which kept him out at Barnes – immediately threatening at full-back. But it was Morley who proved their rapier, adding another penalty on the half-hour. Then, with the interval beckoning, a lineout on the right and slick handling movement saw him spy a gap in the Raiders defence to storm through, adding the extras to make it 20-5.

A stiff wind had been in the home side’s favour for the first 40 minutes, the question was whether they had taken sufficient advantage?

The answer began to look a firm ‘no’, Armstrong claimed his second try on 48 minutes – again unconverted – and Esher not only failed to take advantage of a sustained period near the visitors’ line, just being held up, but then saw the giant wing claim his hat-trick by completing a superb counter-attack. This time Charlie Davies added the extras and then did so again after Callum Roberts burst through in spectacular style.

Teams who have the winning habit often find a way to grab tight matches and, with 11 minutes remaining Es seized their opportunity, a ferocious maul following a lineout on the left proving irresistible as Guernsey conceded a second penalty try. They were kept at bay for the final stretch, both sides looking utterly spent by the time the final whistle sounded.

Fixtures – February 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).