Ealing Trailfinders 1st XV left it to the final play of the game to claim a pulsating 36-33 victory over fellow promotion hopefuls Esher. Owen Bruynseels squeezed over in the right hand corner in the 81st minute to set off a chorus of celebrations from the Ealing Trailfinders players, as the victory all but signals the end of any promotion hopes for last year’s relegated Championship side.
Despite losing captain Ian Kench to a serious knee injury in the 2nd minute, Esher began the game with gusto. Their ability to recycle quick ball and get their forwards thundering over the gain-line had the Ealing Trailfinders side defending for large periods of the opening quarter. Ealing Trailfinders found themselves 13-3 behind after Esher fly-half Luke Daniels kicked two penalties to the one by Thomas Wheatcroft before Andy Wright scored following good build-up play between forwards and backs. Ealing Trailfinders looked dangerous on the counter-attack, and when Phil Chesters latched onto a neat grubber kick from Wheatcroft before bursting through a tackle to sprint for his first try of the game, Ealing Trailfinders had reduced the deficit to 13-10 going into half-time.
After the interval, Ealing Trailfinders raced into the lead for the first time thanks to Chesters’ opportunistic instinct. As Esher pressed the visitors’ try-line, the electric winger snapped up a loose pass to sprint the length of the field and score a converted try. Esher fashioned an immediate response as a wayward Ealing Trailfinders pass was gathered by Spencer Sutherland who, like his opposite winger minutes before, sprinted untouched to the try-line. Daniels’ successful conversion took Esher into a 20-17 lead as the game was beginning to turn into a humdinger of a derby. Ealing Trailfinders demonstrated their ruthlessness with two tries in the space of three minutes giving them the momentum in this absorbing encounter. The first try was the result of a powerful forward drive which saw Anders Nilsson claim the score. The second try saw Chesters secure his well-deserved hat-trick and provided Ealing Trailfinders with the bonus-point score. The visitors looked in control as they held a 29-20 lead and seemed on the cusp of running away with the game. However, ill-discipline threatened to ruin the hard work that had been put in by the visitors. Daniels kicked a pair of penalties to close the gap to within three points before Ealing Trailfinders were reduced to 13 men as Peter Hodgkinson was sin-binned for foul play, followed seconds later by Sam Shires who was yellow-carded for repeated offences. Ealing Trailfinders combined a patient strategy with courageous defence as they endeavoured to run the clock down with their England Counties representatives redundant in the bin. Esher proved to be too good a side not to capitalise on the numerical advantage as they reclaimed the lead through a well-worked try finished by Andy Garner. With less than four minutes remaining in the game it looked like Ealing Trailfinders were on their way to suffering their first defeat since losing to Blaydon last November. Ealing Trailfinders persevered and demonstrated their title credentials by showing class and maturity to snatch victory. An Ealing Trailfinders lineout drive looked destined to produce a try before it was suspiciously pulled down just metres from the Esher try-line. The Ealing Trailfinders players kept their cool and a succession of pick and goes gave them the necessary impetus before slick handling through the backs to Bruynseels, who finished brilliantly in the corner. Wheatcroft’s touch-line conversion rubbed further salt into Esher wounds and signalled the end to a magnificent National 1 derby game.
Ealing Trailfinders representatives Peter Hodgkinsons and Sam Shires are part of the England Counties Squad that will be taking on France Federale this Friday at Vallis Way in Ealing, the home of Ealing Trailfinders Rugby Club. Kickoff is 7pm and is set to be a great opener to a weekend of International rugby.