REPORT: Ealing Exiles 15 – 14 Old Actonians IIs – Winning MMT Div 5 league semi-final!

Ealing Exiles make it to the MMT div 5 finals by beating Old Actonians IIs in the semi’s 15-14! Proud Nick Greenhalgh reports from the blindside flank.
Exiles turned up to OAs grounds last Saturday with some intrepidation. There were some large unfamiliar OAs warning up, their first team were due to play directly after us on the same pitch. Would they switch the teams?  Was the 1st XV game as important as making it to the final…  Well there were a few new faces, but not many, but we had a strong side and went out meaning business.
We took the game straight to them. Clive L firing some smashing runs into their centres making good ground, being well backed up by the forwards.  But all our early endeavours were thwarted as we failed to make points from our forays into their red zone!  We picked up a few injuries too.  Steve R and James H both left the pitch with ankle and knee problems.  Luckily our subs bench was healthy and we could soak up this loss, and indeed both these two made it back onto the pitch before the end of the game and their work then was appreciated.
However, being Exiles we did not want to make light work of our win.  We allowed the oppo to score the first two tries and found ourselves staring down the barrel of a 14-0 score line within the first 15 minutes.  Not disheartened we came straight back, with a try from Craig at fullback from a restart. The pace of Craig was clear as he managed to outwit and out pace all that tried to hinder him. Sadly the kick was missed. 
Shortly after that the forwards built up some pressure inside the oppo 22 and from a ruck managed to pop it out to an enthusiastic Jonathan K who sprinted it down the touchline out of the defenders reach grounding the ball safely about 10 yards to the right of the posts due to possible Actonian incursions preventing a between the post number.  The kick was missed again!
In the hot March day we played 20 minute quarters and were thankful for the water breaks.  We played hard an fast and in general had most of the possession, but that mattered little as the first 2 tries had shown us we had flaws, some tackles were going too high and we were making a few school boy mistakes giving away a fair amount of penalties.  But the scrum was strong.  Eff picked up a knock to the head about 20 mins in but refused to acknowledge he ought to leave the pitch until about 5 mins from the end. Like a soldier he kept going from scrum to scrum steadying the platform as the front row changed here and there, as Greg, Ghassan, Barry, Steve, Pete and Marc worked hard on the oppo. The scrum was magnificent!  We made many yards and even when the oppo did win they were often on the back foot with Exile back-row ready to take them down.  As blindside flanker I particularly enjoyed getting a good grab on the large no.8 as he had a go on the blindside and dragging him towards touch, wasn’t sure I’d make it until Tom made it over from the open side flank and smashed him from behind giving us the line-out!  
Still we were 10-14 down.  We had a few kick-able penalties, but we opted not to take them. Not sure why! Alex K was skipper on the day and had clearly been brushing up on the Barry Cousins’ book of captaincy decisions, so it was scrums or runs and no kicking..  This may have been a good thing as the 3 kicks we did have the opportunity to take for goal failed to reach there mark.  I think we need to look to using some forwards for goal kicking with Jonathan McK and Marc C having good kicking skills…  May have a quick shoot out competition before the final!
Elder statesman Steve R with a knackered ankle flies! 
As time ran low were were still not in the lead, but we were closing down on it despite some worrying long kicks with horrible oppo pleasing bounces giving Craig at fullback a hard time.  However from one of these James H, back on the pitch, showed a clean pair of heals on a 40 yard run that ended with the last line of the oppo defence finally stopping him.  The support got there eventually.  We persisted in several phases and got ever closer to the line.  We had a couple of scrums about 10 yards out but still couldn’t quite get it.
Jonathan McK making headway!
Jonathan McK smashed hard into the oppo but still was repelled, the ball was recycled and white line fever was abated, and a yard out from the line I put my hands on the ball, was looking at the white line, but uncharacteristically I pushed it back to Andy at scrum half who flung it fast to Simon at no. 10 who was about to spin it wide when he saw a gap you could fit a bus through open in front of him, and finally we got the final try!  Needless to say the kick was missed.  
Six minutes remained and we nervously contained the oppo, again despite some scary moments as they did make some ground in the centre of the pitch.  But a kick too far to the wrong person allowed us to clear into deep touch and hear that magical (for us) long blast of the whistle.
Great performance from the Exiles! We now get to play in the MMT5 finals for the first time since 2007, getting to meet Twickenham IIIs who thus far we’ve had a loss and draw against, may be time for our win so we get the full spectrum of outcomes against them. Can’t wait!  Big thanks to OAs for being gracious in defeat and providing us and many of our young families great hospitality. As well as a big thanks to our numerous supporters, best turn out of the season.  Who would have thought we’d get from bottom three in the league in the early stages to the finals having won only 7 league table games!!!  Never underestimate the late come back of the might Ealing Exiles!  Come one lads get fired up for the final! Lets bring home the silverware this time!!!
Photos courtesy of Andy Madden: link
Jonathan McK
Simon T
Squad and rough position played:
Afe Ogun – 11
Alex Kruczkowski – 12 – Skipper
Andy Johnston – 9
Anthony Lynch – 4
Barry Cousins – 2,3
Clive Lungley – 11
Ghassan Matta – 3
Greg Life – 3
James Hitchcock – 15
Jonathan McKeogh – 8,5
Marc Hubbard – 1
Neal Craig – 13
Nick Davies – 13
Nick Greenhalgh – 6
Peter Rank – 2
Simon Tyler – 10
Steve Richards – 6, 3
Tom Bignell – 7
Kean Marden – 6
Craig Davies – 15