As the Exiles prepared to embark upon their 2009/10 season, the side was well down on signed-up players: a mere nine names were on the team sheet by Saturday morning!
Match day progressed and some begging and good fortune helped to conjure up 16 players in time for kick-off. For this, big thanks must go to Ash and the Cougars management for allowing the Exiles to take a second prop to the match (and thus losing a front row substitute themselves). Big thanks as well go to those players who were playing their first match for Ealing Rugby Club: Owen, Jamie, Paris, Hugh and Michael (two of these guys were expecting to spectate and actually ended up playing). Adrian from the Ealing Evergreens managed to help us out despite having been celebrating to excess with the aforementioned team the previous night down at London Irish!
Sadly the Civil Service Sports Club bar was closed to business. The Exiles trust that this is a short-term measure as it has always been a cracking club house in which to down a few after (and a half before) the match. On the positive side, the closure led to a much more sober and stretched set of Exiles, ready for kick-off in good time (perhaps a first in recent memory?).
Kick-off loomed, as did the bad news that Quintin IIs had not brought a front row with them. The opposition were very apologetic, but much to Ash’s disappointment the Exiles had to start the season with uncontested scrums. This eventuality was not quite as sad for Nick and Owen, who had found themselves promoted to hooker and prop respectively by default as the rest of the Exiles’ regular front row experts were unavailable to play for various reasons.
Hot conditions and the friendly nature of the game (Quintin kept 15 on the pitch despite the new "man off" rule) meant four quarters of twenty minutes were to be played. The Exiles won the toss and with the wind, but into the bright afternoon sunlight, kicked off on the sun-baked ground at Dukes Meadows; the ground was dry and hard as a result of the pitch being part of the cricket field the weekend before! Quintin were looking a little slimmer, younger and fitter than the average Exile, and without having the weapon of scrummage to hamper the opposition, the Exiles commenced battle with some trepidation. Fortunately, the Exile defenses were sound. Midfield stalwarts such as Paul T and newcomer Jamie did a splendid job. Little came through and little got very far.
It was only after the second quarter kick-off that points made it onto the board. Fly half Jamie managed to break the Quintin defense cleanly and ran in a long-range try with a deft little shake-off close to the line as he snaked away from a would-be tackler. For some unknown reason Jamie decided not to ground between the posts, instead placing the ball down about 15 or so metres to the right. Perhaps this was done just to test Spike’s kicking form? Not to worry: Spike stepped up to the challenge and the Exiles were 7-0 in the lead.
As the match progressed there were several injuries on both sides. The Exiles had already lost Owen towards the end of the first quarter due to a clash of heads (or was it elbow on head in a ruck?). At the death of the third quarter, Spike split his eye on an elbow. Luckily the First Aid bag (the Exiles are not going up in the world; it was on loan from the Evergreens) had some Steri Strips available and having previous form Barry and Nick managed to do a pretty good job at patching him up.
The attrition of the previous three quarters saw the Exiles fielding just 14 players for the final battle. It was not too long before Quintin managed to grind down the Exile defences and work a nice try, though thankfully they were forced into putting the ball down well away from the posts. The missed conversion attempt left the Exiles leading, albeit with a worrisome 7-5 scoreline.
Other memorable passages of play include Andy’s forceful runs making some headway here and there, Stef’s demonic tackling and Ash’s cycle of relentless pick-and-drives followed by a lie down and rest. The referee requested that Ash should desist from such activity as he was certain Ash would receive a serious head injury if he continued. Clearly the resting after going to ground was more convincing than that of the amateur actors down at the Stoop!
Afe also left the Exiles speechless after gathering the ball from a long Quintin kick deep inside the Exiles’ half. He beat the first few oncoming defenders to deliver (and almost gather) a wonderful kick just shy of the try line, in an area the opposition had seemingly and bafflingly not bothered to cover. Hugh was on hand to offer support but as the referee judged a knock on at the attempted gather, a stunning try was not to be. If it was not for the fumble, Afe would be deemed to be a genius. As it is, he just makes memorable passages…
Both teams worked hard on each other as the clock continued to tick down, with just the two points separating the sides. The Exiles maintained a fair bit of pressure on Quintin with several number 8 pickups from uncontested scrums close to the Quintin line, but did not quite manage to get through. Finally, Ash orchestrated a superb maul, positioned himself and chose his moment to bludgeon his way over the line after grabbing the ball from the Exiles’ newest spectator-cum-player, Hugh, who looked like he would not have minded the honours himself.
A tough kick was missed but leading 12-5 with barely more than a minute to go the Exiles had given themselves a small cushion. The referee called the last play; the ball went wide; there were a few fumbles and a Quintin kick. The ball tickled its way towards the touch line by the Exiles’ 22 line. All Fabio had to do was take the ball in hand and kick it off the pitch. However, not sure why, in trying to protect any damage to his recently operated upon knee, this trivial task became something of a nightmare. Exact details slip from the memory, but after some scrambling about involving Fabio and the Quintin right winger (or was it full back?) the ball at last made it off the pitch and the Exiles secured their first win of the season: Exiles undefeated after one match!
Once again, huge thanks go to the new guys and the guest players who helped us get a full team out on the day – everyone showed true Exiles spirit to achieve this victory!
|Quintin II 5||Ealing Exiles 12|