First game of the season for Ealing Evergreens saw them taking on an Ex-Ealing Colts Invitational XV. I say XV but there were literally hordes of them or so it seemed as rolling subs were played. Still, it was great to see so many of the club’s former Colts back at the Trailfinders on a beautiful Saturday morning. Ideal weather for fast, flowing rugby which the Ex-Colts would attempt to exploit to the full. My first decision as Evergreen’s captain for 2009/10 was to tell Club Chairman and main organiser of the day, Damien Bugeja that we would prefer to play as two distinct teams and not mix and match. This was met with some amusement as I was assured that the youngsters would run us off the park: we’ll see about that says I.
Evergreens formed up with a solid front row of Ash “The Swedish Chef” Spencer, DC at Hooker and big Richie Melia completed the trio at tight-head. The wise old heads of Bill Miller and Paul Clarke made up the second-row engine room with a mobile back-row of Brendan “The Chief Exec” O’Flaherty, Kieran “KP” Power and Nick Greenhalgh at No. 8 on temporary loan from The Ealing Exiles. Ricky was marshalling the back-line at scrum-half with Nicholas Bethenod at fly-half. Centres were the muscular pair of Dave Steene and Andre Ghassan with a back three of Eric Murray, Lawrence Chir and Adrian Hobbs. On the bench and raring to come on were Stef McCabe, Dave Brathwaite, Mark Rutherford, Alex Adide and new chap, Owen whose second name I forgot (one of my many captaincy errors on the day).
The game started with Evergreens kicking off. The Ex-Colts gathered and showed immediately their intentions to spread the ball early and wide. The Vets were blowing hard after a frenetic few opening minutes but holding their shape and were camped on the Colts 22 when a wayward pass was picked off by someone young and quick on the Colts team (that’s going to be my description of all of them) who tore away to touch down between the posts pursued all the way by Lawrence Chir… why, I have no idea as he plainly wasn’t catching him but fair play anyway. The Colts added to their lead shortly afterward when a long kick ahead wasn’t dealt with by the Evergreens and someone young and quick gathered to run in a 40 yard score. The much-predicted rout looked definitely on the cards.
But then the Evergreens finally shook off their opening lethargy and started to play to their strengths. The next 50 minutes was evenly matched with the Evergreens forwards attacking well around the fringes with the pick and go being particularly effective. A few strong forward drives from the likes of Bill Miller, Ash and BOF punched holes in the Ex-Colts defence and started to wear them down. Eric Murray on the wing put in several very strong runs beating the first man every time. Some big hits by Dave Steene put a stop to several dangerous breaks by some young and quick Ex-Colts. Special mention must be made of Kieran Power at No 6 who for years played for Ealing 1sts out of position at Prop but was now back in his natural habitat and making inroads every time he had the ball. Unfortunately, we were just not able to convert all the possession and territory we enjoyed during long periods into actual scores. The main reason for this was some poor option taking by players taking the ball into contact when it needed to go wide or someone making a break and not having any support on their shoulder. These are things we need to work on by improving fitness and by training together to build cohesion.
To give the Ex-Colts their due they were full value for their lead. They didn’t back down from the physical challenge and despite the Evergreens having a clearly superior scrum, the Ex-Colts got a decent nudge on at times and on one ignominious occasion the entire Evergreens front row ended up on their backsides with the Ex-Colts running right over the top of them. Oh, the humanity! In the third quarter they extended their lead when the referee inexplicably restarted after the break while the Vets were sorting out subs. The Ex-Colts took advantage of the confusion to win the kick-off and then after a few surges stepped through some poor Evergreen’s tackling to score again. I might mention the rolling subs again and the fact that they had about 12 subs to our 5. This was used to full effect by the Ex-Colts who had a plentiful supply of fresh legs. It’s a long time since any of the Evergreen’s legs were described as fresh! While the Ealing front-row played the entire game without a change, there were 4 different props faced Richie Melia.
When the whistle blew for the end of the third quarter many players started shaking hands thinking it was all over but unlike the cliche it wasn’t over yet. The Vets were pretty unanimously keen to play the final quarter believing we were very much still in the game. Great credit is due to the Evergreen boys for still being up for it after well over an hour in the sun against lads in their early 20s. The Ex-Colts scored almost immediately after the restart but the rest of the game saw a strong finish by the Evergreens. Following a series of penalty taps, an Ex-Colts defensive five yard scrum was turned over by the Vets and from the resulting attacking scrum, Dave Brathwaite picked from the base and darted over to put Evergreens on the scoreboard.
That was how it finished, 4 tries to 1, and at the final whistle I like to think that the ex-Colts looked as knackered as the Vets but that may be wishful thinking. Beers and Burgers afterwards while watching the Ealing 1sts hammer Esher 2nds rounded off a thoroughly enjoyable afternoon.
Special mentions in despatches must go to Stefan Glancy who, to the ringing cheers of his Jades posse, sprinted on to the pitch and shortly afterwards hobbled off having tweaked his hamstring. Hurry back Stef!
Well done to all who participated (especially any whose name I forgot to mention), there was great spirit on display which we need to take into our next game against London irish on Friday night 11th September, kick-off 7.30pm.
Finally, as my first game as Evergreens Captain, I’d like to say how proud I was to be part of what was a great day and a great advertisement for Evergreens rugby. Apologies for anything I forgot on the day as I hope to get better at this thing as we go on. Hopefully my half-time pep talks will become less unintelligible with less frequent use of foul language (although I can’t really see that happening).