Park come out on top to take local bragging rights off Esher
Rosslyn Park stay top of National League One after a pulsating local derby against Esher in front of a large Friday night crowd ended 20-14 in Park's favour.
The tackling throughout was about as brutal as it can be without going beyond the laws and both sides richly deserved the generous applause at the end of a match.
Almost from kick off, Esher caught Park offside for full-back Rob Kirby to kick them into a 3-0 lead.
Park responded with a superb move up the left, but the last pass did not stick.
This proved to be largely the pattern of the first half: Park played the more expansive passing game, but too often – under pressure – a poor pass would intervene to stop a highly promising move.
Esher deployed a more direct style but always looked dangerous when in possession.
When Park put together some promising raids, one down the left brought Esher’s turn to concede a penalty and fly half Sam Katz stroked over an equaliser on 12 minutes.
Esher returned to the attack and, finding no way through some superb defensive tackling, set up a peach of a drop goal from fully 30 metres for fly-half Gareth Morgan to restore the lead on 15 minutes at 3-6.
The home side came back and as the match see-sawed, Katz again equalised at 6-6.
Park conceded a penalty almost from the kick off but this time Kirby narrowly missed.
A clearance kick out on the full gave Esher a throw in the Park 22 but the visitors simply could not evade the defence’s tigerish tackling.
Esher’s breakthrough came when Park were caught in possession just inside their own half and Kirby was again on hand to slot over a difficult penalty only eight metres from the halfway line.
Park continued to put together some attractive moves, twice spreading the ball across the pitch to probe for openings.
Esher were under immense pressure and conceded a five metre scrum from which flanker Luke Campbell managed to drive himself over and touch down. Katz added a conversion for a 13-9 interval lead that Park just about deserved.
The first attack after the interval saw Esher win a scrum, but the home pack turned it with some sterling work from prop Will Bigley.
When the scrum was reset Esher were penalised. While Katz could not nail the penalty, it looked a significant moment in terms of the forward battle.
Park went into all-out attack, trying up both wings and it was only some good defending that prevented a score.
Eventually Esher had to concede a penalty and Park kicked to touch and the throw led to a scrum. As Park edged forwards, a clearly out-gunned Esher were penalised.
Realising they had the opposing pack well kippered, Park opted to scrummage again and as Esher were thrown into reverse gear the referee ran between the posts to award the penalty try. Katz converted for 20-9.
That should have been that, but Esher put in an immense effort and forced Park onto the back foot. A penalty was hammered to touch, but it was the Park who nearly scored when Edwards broke up the left.
He kicked the ball ahead to try to out-pace the defender, but when he was checked, the referee ignored loud appeals from the home crowd.
Esher came back, extending the defence once more and eventually found winger Andy Wright unmarked out wide on the right.
The conversion defeated Kirby but Esher were back in with a shout at 20-14 with not much time remaining.
Park dealt with what could have been a fraught situation quite superbly.
They closed Esher down in their own 22 and tackled like demons, time and again preventing them from breaking out.
If they made five metres, the next tackle knocked them back 10. It was a formidable display of defensive aggression to run down the clock.
When eventually Park got the ball it was unceremoniously hoofed to touch, and the whistle brought an end to a really excellent match.
Park deserved their win, but rarely was a losing bonus point more deserved that Esher’s.
Park travel to Wharfedale this weekend.