Stout defence and incisive attack saw Ealing Amateurs through to an impressive 22-0 win over SC Rugby 1863 2nds to become champions of Middlesex Merit Table 1, in the last of seven playoffs contested on MMT finals day at the Wasps ground in Twyford Avenue.
After deceptive morning sunshine, the weather deteriorated as kick-off approached, and the entire game was played in heavy rain, understandably leading to dropped passes and knock-ons by both teams.
Ealing played into the wind and rain in the first half and soon found themselves under pressure from a CS Rugby 1863 side who throughout the match gave glimpses of the ability that had taken them to second place in the league and a semi-final victory over Hammersmith and Fulham. The early pressure led to the award of a penalty to CS Rugby, but the goal attempt fell well short. The Ealing pack, impressive all season in scrum, line-out and loose play, burst out of defence with a sequence of short carries, and after 12 minutes the pressure told. A penalty was kicked to touch, a clean line-out catch was taken by flanker Des Crinion, and the pack mauled their way inexorably towards the try line. Captain and No 8 Adam Hulmston appeared to ground the ball over the line, but referee Greg Murphy awarded a penalty try because a defender had come in at the side and collapsed the maul in a vain attempt to stop the score being made. Jonny Murphy’s conversion was consequently a formality. Mid-way through the half the lead was increased when fly-half Alex Gillespie sent a beautifully weighted grubber kick down the left touch-line. Winger Pascal Baptiste timed his run perfectly to reach the ball just ahead of the defender. The conversion attempt failed, leaving Ealing with a 12-0 lead, which they held until half time.
The second half began much like the first, with the Amateurs having to spend extended periods in defence. However, with fresh legs brought on from a strong bench, they held out and secured vital line-out ball to clear upfield on numerous occasions. The game plan of never running speculatively out of defence but securing good-quality ball and clearing to touch was followed rigidly and kept CS Rugby at bay. As the half wore on Ealing began to move into the opposition half, and with a quarter of the game to go yet another penalty to touch and clean line-out catch saw the forwards again plough towards the try line. Substitute flanker Ed Shryane emerged from a pile of bodies as the scorer of the try, converted by Jonathan Knott, who showed no ill-effects after running the Paris Marathon just six days previously. With victory assured and the referee indicating that the 80 minutes were up, Ealing were awarded a kickable penalty which Knott stroked over to make the final score 22-0 amid wild celebrations.
The Amateurs 1sts have another big game this Thursday, 18 April at Vallis Way, when they take on Harrow 1sts at home in the semi-final of the North West Middlesex Floodlit Cup. Harrow have just sealed promotion from Herts/Middlesex 1 with only two defeats all season and will be tough opposition. However, having comfortably beaten two teams from that league in friendlies earlier in the season, the Amateurs will go into the game knowing that victory and a final against Ruislip are certainly achievable if they play to their full potential. Kick-off is at 7.15.