The Men’s 1sts had already had three close encounters with the Cornishmen over the last season and a half, and the home game on the wide expanses of the 3G pitch proved to be another well contested affair. In a tense match for once won on penalties rather tries, both sides put on a show of rugby that was a credit to Zoo Shield Division 3, a league that offers no easy games.
On a bright but cold January day Ealing started with great intent and produced some outstanding attacking play in the first 15 minutes. A first chance to take the lead came on five minutes when a penalty was awarded for offside, but scrum-half Chico U’Chong’s kick drifted just wide. The home side’s early dominance was eventually rewarded when hooker Ryan Brooks caught the Cornish defence unawares at a breakdown and scampered to the line untouched. The easy conversion by U’Chong was followed by a first penalty by the same player 11 minutes into the game.
Cornish started to come back into the game, a dangerous run down the right wing being stopped only by a crunching tackle by full-back Steve Verma. The visitors had brought a powerful pack and unsurprisingly it was one of their forwards who bulldozed his way over to reduce the deficit to 10-5 after 18 minutes. Further pressure from the increasingly confident visitors led to a second try on 26 minutes. Cornish were held up close to the line after missed tackles had allowed then to attack down the left, but quick recycling enabled them to finish off the move and take a narrow 12-10 lead thanks to a fine conversion.
The pendulum swung the other way again as the half-time whistle approached, and Ealing were guilty on a couple of occasions of failing to offload at key moments. However, a certain try with a two-man overlap on the right wing was prevented at the cost of a yellow card to Cornish for a deliberate knock-on. Rather than the full seven points for what could have been a penalty try the hosts had to be content with three for a second penalty kick by U’Chong following another offence.
Turning around 13-12 to the good, Ealing started the second period with intent. Prop Phil Cotter was first to the ball from an excellent kick-off, and an ensuing penalty attempt was pushed just right of the posts. Five minutes later Cornish received a second yellow card, and U’Chong slotted his third penalty, Ealing wisely opting to take the three-points on offer. This proved to be U’Chong’s last contribution as coach Nick Lambert emptied the strong five-man bench. Tight-head prop Patrizio Bancher in particular made an immediate impression in the set scrum, while French scrum-half Sofiane Atik showed considerable promise in his first 30 minutes in the green and white.
With the game delicately poised at 16-12, Ealing again opted to kick the points on offer when a penalty was awarded in front of the posts on 70 minutes, the kicking duties being taken over by flanker Will Day, by now moved to hooker.
A strong defence that had prevented the visitors registering a score in the second half was put to the test with ten minutes to go when Bancher, who seemed more sinned against than sinning, was dispatched to the sin bin for not releasing. Cornish piled on the pressure and won a succession of penalties, but Ealing crucially pinched four opposition line-outs. In a nail-biting final five minutes the hosts were reduced to 13 men by a harsh yellow card for centre George Bertolis, but heroically held on to record their sixth win in ten league matches.
French flanker Lucas Marty, deservedly named man of the match by the Cornish captain, and Verma, who pulled off several outstanding one-on-one tackles, merit special mention.
This Saturday, 24 September, the Men’s 1sts make the short trip to Richmond to take on the Normans, currently sitting third in the league and clearly a considerably stronger side than they were last season.