Friday night after work and instead of Happy Hour in the pub round the corner I’m heading to Gloucester Road to meet Ricky and head down to Sunbury for the annual friendly against London Irish Vets. This is a very popular fixture for Evergreens with so many of the squad having a connection with London Irish and such a strong Irish contingent in the Evergreens and Ealing in general.
Thankfully, the good weather and players commitment mean that we have a strong squad taking the field. The core of the team is the same as lined up the previous Saturday but with some key Vets returning for their season’s debut the team has a buzz about it that looks promising for the league games ahead.
Front row was the old reliable combination of Ash Spencer and Declan Cronin with Kieran Power returning to the coalface. As last week, Bill Miller and Paul Clarke provided the grunt in the second row with Brendan O’Flaherty, Jamie Carlin and Andrew Lee making up a back row which had a good balance of speed around the park with strength in contact. The back line looked particularly tasty: as usual Vittorio “Ricky” Spadavecchia at scrum-half and Jonny Murphy at fly-half could be relied on to give shape to the game. Centres were Dave Steene and Paul Hoban with Eric Murray and Paul Jackson on the wings. Ed Young rounded off the team at full-back. As I’m writing this I find myself praying we can put out a back-line as talented and reliable as that for the rest of the season! The subs bench also had plenty of talent ready to slot in, as they all did in the second half, and squeezing their bums together on the bench were Big Stef Glancy, Adrian Hobbs, Dave Brathwaite, Andrew Gardner, Paul Treacy, Mark Rutherford and Bryn Worth. Yes, it had to be an especially accommodating bench!
The referee was a Corkman and this now meant there were at least three of us on the pitch and would surely lead to an argument over the Treaty or Michael Collins but, luckily, cool heads prevailed.
The game started well for Ealing and we were putting pressure on the Irish 22 when the ball was popped up to Paul Jackson under pressure from the defence. The Acton Express showed that his coaching role at Ealing hadn’t robbed him of his footwork as he stepped and swerved through about five tackles before scoring a lovely individual try.
Ealing dominance was pretty much the story of the first half. The back three were very impressive as a unit as they counter-attacked effectively. Ed Young dealt confidently with a succession of high balls. Dave Steene and Paul Hoban consistently broke the gain line with Jonny Murphy posing his usual threat as well as bringing his centres into the game. Mid way through the half, Jamie Carlin made a great break down the wing and fed Jonny Murphy in support. He was tackled just short of the line but Bill Miller was on hand to pick and drive over to extend the Ealing lead. Some of the Ealing first up tackling was poor and this was allowing Irish to stay in the game and they scored a try in the first half from the Ealing defence rushing up a bit too quickly and allowing themselves to be stepped rather easily. A few words were said about this, mainly by Jonny Murphy, and this bore immediate fruit a few minutes later. Defending our 22, I could hear a quite impressive Hold, Hold, Press being called which clearly distracted the Irish attack. The pass from their fly-half was just a fraction off but it was enough for Dave Steene to shoot in and pluck the ball from the air for an audacious intercept and run 80 metres to score under the posts. A fourth try was added by Jonny Murphy following some strong attacking play by Evergreens.
Some odd decisions regarding binding at the scrums were causing frustration for Ealing but set-pieces were fairly even with perhaps Ealing having the better of it. Andrew Lee was winning a steady supply of lineout ball, albeit of the tapped down variety. Obviously the tactical masterstroke of e-mailing the lineout calls to the team was having the right impact. In fact, it was such a good idea that Damien Bugeja has pinned them up in the window of Budgens by Ealing Broadway station. So now there’s no excuse for not knowing the calls.
The second half saw Ealing tightening up on the tackling and an early score was added to our tally when Eric Murray latched on to a kick ahead and stepped the full back to score a lovely try. Another notable moment in the second half was Dave Brathwaite getting ten minutes bin-time for killing the ball in the red zone. At least that’s what my friend the referee told me when I protested that we hadn’t been warned for persistent offending. Ealing finished the stronger team aided by the fresh legs off the bench. Bryn worth showed up well at both full back and scrum-half. Stef Glancy completed his first half game in 18 months. Paul Treacy and Andy Gardner came on to good effect in the back-line with Mark Rutherford and Adrian Hobbs making more of an impression with every game. The game ended well for Ealing when following a number of clean line-out takes by Paul Clarke in the Irish 22, the pack drove a well-organised maul over the tryline and when the bodies cleared it was Kieran Power who arose triumphantly with the final score. 36 – 12 with Jonny Murphy kicking three conversions, one of which was bizarrely taken from behind the goals because the ball was getting lost in the dark when kicked in the normal fashion.
It was a terrific performance by Evergreens who played some lovely attacking rugby as well as the usual strength in close quarters. The game was played in a great spirit by both sides and the usual Irish hospitality was in evidence in the clubhouse afterwards. Especially encouraging as captain was the effort made by players to make themselves available on a Friday night. Steve Weekes performed the task of logistical manager with the most important job of driving the team bus. Beers and grub in the Irish clubhouse were followed by a few sociables in The Plough in Northfields with a pitstop at The Sun Inn on the way. A very enjoyable night and thanks to all the players for the great effort. I’m sure this is a fixture that will long remain on the Evergreens calendar.