Ealing Trailfinders returned to Vallis Way for Saturday’s National 2 South game against Clifton on a bitterly cold January day.
Despite this the league leaders still looked to play the brand of rugby with which they have become synonymous with so far this season. Again their wings were on hand with five of the sides eight tries, but it was a dominant display by the pack against a tough Clifton XV, coached by ex England hooker Mark Reagan and Bristol back row Matt Slater, that will really make the league stand up and take notice. Ealing’s scrummage was rock solid all day, and on a number of occasions they drove their visitors off the ball giving their backs some fantastic counter attacking ball with which to play.
With that good ball, Phil Chesters crossed for a hat trick of tries, and with that he has equalled the National League try scoring record of 39 tries set by Northampton & England wing Chris Ashton, in the Championship season in 2007-08. His fellow wing, Owen Bruynseels also came away with a brace of his own to show for his day’s work.
Phil Chesters said after the game, “Everyone is very pleased with the result maintaining our impressive home record. We came out of the blocks well and managed to secure the bonus point by halftime."
He added, "Credit to Clifton they kept playing for the full 80 minutes, however we weren’t going to let up, the bench made a positive impact and we pushed on in the second half and came away with an impressive eight try win in what was very trying conditions to play rugby".
Ealing began the first period playing up the Vallis Way slope, and within five minutes they had forced a lineout inside the Clifton 22m line. Following a series of drives, scrum half Morgan Thompson came up with the ball. Neil Hallett converted from wide on the right and Ealing were 7-0 up.
Clifton standoff Chris Ashwin pulled three points back for the visitors following an Ealing transgression, but Ealing were playing some very patient phase rugby, moving their counterparts around the pitch and looking relaxed when in possession. Their next score followed an intense period of Ealing pressure. A dominant scrum by the hosts gave Ben Ward decent ball with which to attack. A miss-move to centre Pete Hodgkinson saw the evasive player burst through the Clifton defence, in support was the ever present man of the match, blind side flanker Karl Gibson, cutting inside the defence. He dotted down after 18 minutes to take the home side 12-3 ahead.
Owen Bruynseels was next on the try sheet, and this time the provider was Karl Gibson. With the pack to the fore in the build-up, Gibson found himself in the wide channels, he broke through the Clifton defence and his quick give and take put the pacey Bruynseels clear, who rounded the defence and touched down. Hallett’s conversion drifted wide on the wind, but after 21 minutes Ealing led by 17-3.
Clifton responded well and following a flowing attack, flanker Thomas Pool was on the end of the move and he crossed the Ealing line after 26 minutes. Ashwin’s conversion put the score line back to 17-10 and there was a murmuring of concern from the Vallis Way faithful Green & White army.
Within five minutes Ealing pressed home their advantage. The Ealing pack who had been superb all day – taking the Clifton scrum apart. Anders Nilsson picked and drove at the visitors defence, Lee Starling picked and fed prop Lewis Brown who crossed the Clifton line for the fourth try of the day, and with it the bonus point was in the bag. Hallets conversion on 32 minutes extended the lead to 24-10 as the half time whistle was blown by referee Michael Cooper.
The visitors knew that some work had to be done, indeed Matt Slater bought his pack of forwards out during the half time break to work on their stuttering lineout, but it was the home side who continued brightly as the second half commenced. They again were patient in their build up, and the foraging runs by the Ealing back row continued to make huge in roads into the Clifton half.
Ronny McLean-Dents came on for Joe Price after 45 minutes, and he looked dangerous with the ball in hand. After 50 minutes, the predatory instincts of Owen Bruynseels were again evident. He collected a loose kick by the visitors, then attacked the outside centre and, cutting inside, he found full back Neil Hallett, who drew the full back and Bruynseels went over unopposed. Hallett’s conversion was wide, but Ealing were looking good for their 29-10 lead after 45 minutes.
Ealing’s Mike Cudmore, rang the changes and gave his squad some valuable game time, Lock Ryan Gregory gave way for Ben Griffiths, whilst Sonny Kuwana and Dinos Alexopoulos replaced Lewis Brown and Jon Moyce who all had a fine afternoon and will give Mike headaches when it comes to selection for next week’s game at The Athletic Ground.
Ealing’s next score followed some clever play from the backs. Ealing won a lineout against the throw, and the ball was spun wide in their 22m line. It found Owen Bruynseels, he rounded his opposite number but finding his options limited, he put in a clever crossed field kick, Ben Ward was first to the bouncing ball, and with some neat footwork, he poked it through and found Phil Chesters galloping towards the line, the ball bounced up nicely and the Ealing wing outpaced the covering Clifton defence, crossing to take Ealing out to 34-10.
Phil Chesters was on the scorsheet again on 66 minutes for his second try of the day – finishing off a flowing move started in the Ealing 22 and going through some 10 phases of play. Chester’s completed the days scoring on 70 minutes, and with it equalling the try scoring record set by Chris Ashton.
Ealing completed this dominant display over Clifton, who had ran Richmond so close the week before, based on forward power and patience in building the phases that allowed their backs to play in the wide open channels at Vallis Way .
Skipper Ben Ward said of the game “We did the simple things well which enabled us to control the game. Clifton are a tough team and we knew we would have to win the forward battle. It’s a good win but now we must move on and start working on our game plan for next week".
Ealing visit near neighbours Richmond next weekend for their rearranged league fixture that was curtailed due to snow in December. Richmond since their early season defeat to Ealing at Vallis Way in September have gone on an run of 15 games undefeated and certainly are the form team in National 2 South. It looks to be the fixture of the week in National 2 South.
Ealing’s Director of Rugby Mike Cudmore is aware that much has changed since that early season game. He said, “Richmond, when we played them earlier in the season, were like us, finding their feet and bedding in new players and game plans, this was reflected in the game that day. Since then both teams have developed and improved and it will be a very competitive game between two sides who have a lot to play for."
Phil Chesters for one is looking forward to locking horns with rivals Richmond. He said "Nothing changes for us this week, the squad will approach Saturday as we do every other game, week in week out. Richmond are a good side, their recent run of games have proved that. Games like this, with us in first place and them in second, playing each other is what rugby is all about – Challenges !"
Kick off at The Athletic Ground is 3pm, and all details can be found at the Richmond website http://www.richmondfc.co.uk/
15 – Neil Hallett, 14 – Owen Bruynseels, 13 – Pete Hodgkinson 12 – Joe Price, 11 – Phil Chesters, 10 – Ben Ward (c), 9 – Morgan Thompson
8 – Anders Nilsson, 7 – Lee Starling, 6 – Karl Gibson, 5 – Matt Evans, 4 – Ryan Gregory, 3 – Steve Neville, 2 – Jon Moyce, 1 – Lewis Brown
16 – Dinos Alexopoulos 17 – Sungo Kuwana, 18 – Ben Griffiths, 19- Jack Fiswick 20 – Ronald McLean-Dents