Esher 81 Westcliff 7 National Division Two South Saturday, March 12

DEBUTANT Liam Thornton raced over for four tries as Esher blitzed lowly Westcliff for the second time this season.

Title-chasing Es went over 13 times in all to remain two points adrift of leaders Redruth with a crucial trip to Worthing – behind them only on points difference – coming up on Saturday.

Flanker Thornton’s feat even outshone a hat-trick for centre Phil Cokanasiga in an utterly dominant display which narrowly bettered his side’s 80-7 win in Essex in mid-November. If victory was to be expected, it could not be taken for granted against a team which had beaten Albanians seven days earlier, a second success in 24 outings of what has been a decidedly difficult campaign.

Esher also had to think about improving their points difference, which could prove key in a battle for the four-way contest for the promotion spot, eight tries before the interval putting them 52-0 in front.

Lock Hugo Sloan began the charge after only four minutes, followed over by prop Theo Skoumbourdis on 11 as his side’s supremacy up front became ever more apparent, a lineout from the right seeing them force their way over and Sam Morley converting both efforts.

Cokanasiga’s pace had proved evident in scoring twice on his first appearance for the Elmbridge side, two weeks earlier against Redruth, and mixed with a lethal sidestep he sped over for the third try on 18 minutes. Es had their bonus point on the board within 23 when full-back Jack Lavin’s burst set up scrum-half Sam Bullock to cross by the left-hand corner flag, Morley’s kick missing this time.

It would have been easy for Esher to ease up but instead they continued ripping the Westcliff defence apart in clinical fashion, Thornton’s first score coming on 31 minutes followed by a deserved try for hard-working flanker Cam Wilkins.

Cokanasiga and Thornton both notched second efforts by latching on to beautifully judged grubber kicks through the covering defence from Tomek Pozniak. Morley added the extras for six scores in the first half although the blustering wind meant he was reduced to two out of five after the interval.

Polish international Pozniak took his opportunity to join the party early in the second half, Es taking the opportunity to make substitutions and saving energy for the battles ahead while refusing to lose their focus.

Hooker Joe Vajner rewarded fly-half Morley’s invention and determination on the break by crossing but few resented the visitors rewarded for refusing to give in, despite being badly outgunned by a much fitter team, hooker Billy Morrant forcing his way to the line and Ross Gladdish converting.

A spell in the sinbin for Lavin failed to yield any more tries for Westcliff and it was soon back to business as usual, Thornton completing his hat-trick and then adding the fourth in a remarkable first outing before Cokanasiga had the last word by notching his treble in the closing moments.

Esher could reflect on a job well done but with much harder tasks in front of them as they head for three away games in succession. The trip to Worthing was originally due to take place in December and affords both sides the opportunity to claim the leadership with Redruth having a week off.

Fixtures – March 19: Worthing (A); 26: Albanian (A); April 2: Guernsey (A); 9: Bury St Edmunds (H); 16: Canterbury (A); 23: Worthing (H); 30: Rochford (A).