Ealing Amateurs avenged one of just three defeats in the first half of the league season in a hard-fought and exciting encounter and in so doing maintained their position at the top of Zoo Shield Division 3 South.
As in the away fixture in Putney back in October, the two teams produced a game of ebb and flow that was a fine advertisement for the league, particularly in view of the very heavy conditions caused by torrential rain during the preceding week.
Well prepared for kick-off by coach Nick Lambert, Ealing made their customary strong start and were rewarded before the first minute was up when full-back Steve Verma kicked what was to prove a vital three points after London Cornish went offside. Both teams competed strongly on each other’s line-out, with a number of steals of opposition ball in the opening quarter.
Ealing remained generally in the ascendancy during this period, but despite neat short passing and sustained pressure on the Cornish line failed to come away with any reward. With 27 minutes on the clock the home side finally turned pressure in points. A penalty was kicked to touch, clean ball was secured in the line-out and flanker Mike Whitney worked the ball to the versatile Hugh Williams, playing on the right wing after previous appearances in the second row, who made the most of his opportunity to skip past the wrong-footed defence and touch down in the corner. Verma missed narrowly with the conversion attempt.
The following period was evenly contested, but as the first half drew to a close the Cornishmen launched a sustained assault on the Ealing line, resulting in a succession of penalties for offside. The referee eventually lost patience and showed the yellow card to scrum-half Stef McCabe for illegal use of the hands. With dogged determination, the green-and-whites withstood the subsequent onslaught and eventually turned the ball over to retain a lead of 8-0 going into the break.
Ealing saw out the remaining nine minutes with 14 men without conceding, with fly-half Alex Gillespie moving to scrum-half and Gerardo Minich taking over at No 10. Boosted by the return of McCabe, with Minich continuing at fly-half, the Amateurs increased their lead on 56 minutes when second-row Sean Kennett touched down following a line-out drive. The conversion attempt narrowly missed the target, meaning that Cornish needed to score twice to win, which they had managed to do in similar circumstances in the away fixture.
The first riposte came just two minutes later when a try was scored on the right wing after an overlap had been created. Home supporters were relieved to see the conversion attempt sail well wide. As the game moved into its last five minutes Ealing looked comfortably placed to win, but with little prospect of securing a four-try bonus.
It was Cornish instead who scored on 78 minutes in the left-hand corner, leaving the Amateurs with a cushion of just three points. The visitors threw the ball wide in an attempt to produce a winning score as the final whistle approached, but Des Crinion, who had a busy afternoon at inside centre, intercepted, ran 30 metres, kicked ahead and saw the ball agonisingly roll over the dead-ball line before he could reach it.
Led by man-of-the-match Adam Hulmston at No 8, the Amateurs emerged with a vital scalp and maintained their 100% record at what has become ‘Fortress Vallis Way’. This Saturday brings another crucial home match, against Rosslyn Park Hatters, now five points behind Ealing with a game in hand due to a weather-induced postponement, who emerged 21-15 victors in the away fixture in October.