Ealing Evergreens kicked off their 2009/10 Surrey Vet League 1 campaign with a hard-fought win over newly promoted London Welsh Occies.
The omens hadn’t been great early in the morning with some frantic phone calls being made to attempt to fill the gaps left by several players becoming unavailable since selection on Thursday. We arrived at Richmond thinking we had only 14 players but luckily two additional new players were press-ganged into action and things weren’t looking too grim. Although, grim is how I would describe John Ronane’s face when informed he would be needed at outside centre on his return to Ealing colours. It must have been the healthy tan that made him look like some South of France swashbuckling back instead of the normal gritty back-rower, indeed he was observed eating a vegetarian pie after the game! Johnny, I hardly knew ye!
So Ealing lined up with big “You’ll get yours Jimmy” Noak and guest player Ben Davis at prop with skipper, Declan Cronin, in between at hooker. Second rows were Paul Clarke and Rob Williams, true evergreens both, with a meaty back row of Jamie Carlin, Bill Miller and Brendan O’Flaherty. Ealing’s success would, ultimately, be built on this strong forward platform, particularly at scrum time.
The back-line had Vittorio Spadevecchia at scrum-half partnering Bryn Worth at fly-half with Paul Hoban and John Ronane at centre. Wings were Adrian Hobbs and Michele with Ed Young rock solid as ever at full-back. Our solitary sub was new chap Martin whom I was damn glad to see arrive as LW had at least 5 subs and were looking worryingly athletic!
The game kicked off and LW’s game plan was immediately obvious: get the ball wide early and run from everywhere. It was a frenetic opening 15 minutes and Welsh looked very threatening with ball in hand. With two forwards in the Ealing backline our defensive positioning was shaky to say the least but some tremendous cover tackling and scramble defence held out the Welsh when they looked certain to breach our line. Having weathered the opening storm and got our second wind, Ealing started to apply some pressure of our own. Rumbling forward and keeping the ball tight saw Ealing battering the Welsh 22, John Ronane was screaming for the ball to come wide on the right. Ricky obliged and good hands from Bryn and Johnny saw the skipper stepping inside the cover to score the opening try of the game. In a gusting wind Ed missed the conversion narrowly but it was first blood to Ealing.
London Welsh responded well and scored a nice try of their own showing good hands and running but were helped by some poor tackling in the Ealing defence. The first half finished with Welsh winning 7 points to 5. One other noteworthy event was BOF at the back of a maul, turning his back to the maul and becoming completely disengaged from it so that the oppo player came running right around and tackled him in open play. This was much to the merriment of kit manager, Steve Weekes but more of that later.
The second half saw Ealing determined to play to their superior forward strength and limit the amount of broken play which was where the Welsh looked most dangerous. Some tremendous work was done at scrum-time not only turning over ball on several occasions but disrupting Welsh and denying them a steady platform off which to attack. Although our defensive patterns may have been shaky there could be no questioning the commitment to the tackle by Jamie, Bren, Paul and Johnny in particular. Ed Young could only be described as imperious under the high ball and mixed his game well, both running the ball back and clearing his lines expertly. The half back pairing of Ricky and Bryn worked us down the field to concentrate on playing rugby in the opposition half.
This strategy paid off when Ealing opted for the scrum option at a penalty inside the Welsh 22 and saw Big Bill Miller, who had a very strong game throughout, muscle his way over despite the two welsh players hanging off him a la Ginger McLoughlin when he scored that famous try against England! Ealing were back in the lead and stretched that further when again from a scrum in the Welsh 22, scrum-half Ricky chipped over the defence and rolled back the years to sprint around, gather and score a peach of an individual score. London Welsh did pull one back with a very well taken try from 1st phase possession, putting the ball through the hands well to score in the corner. Ealing thought they had a deciding fourth try when the Skipper latched onto a loose ball at a lineout on the welsh line to dive over but was called back when the referee decided he thought an Ealing player had been offside at the tail of the lineout, 10 metres away. Ho hum, I’m not bitter! At least I avoided a fine for jug avoidance if I’d scored a brace!! The other high point of the second half was the sight of touch-judge, kit manager and team bus driver, Steve Weekes insisting that the ref bring Ealing back 40 metres for a line out inside our 22 instead of the half way line as the ref was insisting. Cue much banter from BOF and heated debate about the laws. Luckily, one of the great things about rugby is that nobody really knows all the laws anyway but I have a feeling I’m going to hear more about that.
The game wrapped up at 15 points to 12 in favour of Ealing with Ealing scrambling but failing to get the ball into touch. Luckily a knock-on brought an end to what was a very enjoyable and entertaining game of rugby. It would appear that the league has a very welcome new outfit in London Welsh who proved very gracious hosts and a good team. Finally, a very well done and congratulations to the Evergreens who showed tremendous grit and determination on a day where it could all have gone so differently. Lots to work on but many reasons to be cheerful looking forward to next league game against Barnes on October 17th.
Ealing Evergreens: 15
Tries: Cronin, Miller, Spadevecchia
London Welsh Occies: 12
Tries: 2, Cons: 1