Ian Thynne reports on the Exiles’ trip to Isleworth.
Director of Rugby Barry was decidedly giddy with praise at the sight of Ealing’s hat-trick of wins. Following a season of much endeavour with little to show in the way of results, the end of the season is bearing much-deserved riches. This hat-trick-completing win came against a well-presented and organised Old Isleworthians 15. The setting was our opposition’s second-team pitch; a small pitch of battlefield appearance strewn with trenches and craters, with a bunker-style changing room to match. This less-than-glamourous location was in stark contrast to the Old Isleworthians themselves, who turned up in club colours, complete with blazers, whilst the Exiles were slightly more informal; it takes all sorts.
Assistant Director of Rugby Alex K had a full squad to pick from with plenty in reserve and so opted for a mixture of strength, speed, experience and some fresh legs (under 30). The warm-up showed the forwards were well up for the battle whilst the backs ran through some defence-splitting moves which would have looked better if they had fulfilled the requirement to catch the ball. Backs coach Alex K drilled some last minute instructions into his eager charges whilst Barry (prop) gave wise words to the wingers; but it was Dave MacS’s pre-match talk that got the players in the right mood – and it showed from the kick off.
A lovely start from Simon T exposed hesitancy in the Old Isleworthians pack, which hampered the home side throughout. A well-won line-out and drive, followed by a rip-roaring scrum, and there was a sense of belief that the home side were there for the taking.
The Exiles forwards had the opposition’s pack beaten and it looked like the ladies in the back line would not be required. But given their chance, led admirably first by Simon T and then by Spike at 10, the backs showed they could break the gain line and catch the ball: multi-tasking at its finest. Ten minutes in and another powerful forwards drive led to the ball spinning wide and being taken on by Eyre, who crashed over the line for a well-worked and deserved try. Forwards working with backs: stand up Director of Rugby Barry, England needs you!
The conversion was just shy of the uprights but at 0-5 up after ten minutes, and seeing the forwards dominate so heavily, confidence was growing. The home side were not to be a walkover though: a stout and well-organised Exiles defence kept them short of the line on a number of occasions. The opposition got on the score sheet just five minutes after the first try with a penalty which was an indication that they were not fancying the powerful defence (or their number 10 was playing for his average). The next score came from more good Ealing forwards work which saw Dave MacS carry over a couple of tacklers for a tidy five points. Conversion missed. The Exiles were playing well but still lacked a little precision and execution, and turnovers were penalised by the boot of the home side’s number 10, who kept pinging the ball in behind the Exiles. It was from one such move that led to a drop goal. We had all seen this form of scoring on TV, but none of us had ever experienced it at this level of rugby. This put the score at 6-10 but seriously, a drop goal! half way through the first half! at second/third team level! in a friendly! The number 10 must be a Saracens fan.
Half time and the Exiles were 6-10 up. A number of changes were made to liven the Exiles and orange-carrier Alex K brought on well-earned refreshments.
The second half was more of the same with the Exiles dominant in possession and territory. The first score was a penalty to the home side but that was the end of their count. The Exiles responded superbly with another well-worked forwards try, when Julian piled over. On came the kicking tee monitor Alex K, and Alex A added the extras. The Exiles were getting well on top by this stage, but had to watch out for the lively opposition backs. Both teams were playing top rugby (for this level anyway – although both sides could probably have beaten England – the men not the women – they’re quite good) and it made for a good game. But it was the Exiles back-rowers through Julian, Fabio, T (first half) and Pierce (second half) who got the better of the opposition and helped to deliver quick ball.
It was not all plain sailing for the Exiles though and a combination of good defence and try butchering was frustrating the away side. One particular move included three phases of possession in quick succession each including a five-on-one overlap ten metres out to the beleaguered left side of the away team defence. Shocking then that on each occasion, the ball carrier opted to seek the solitary defender instead of feeding any one of four would-be scorers outside. Finally when it did go wide, it was dropped – so maybe those ball carriers knew something…
The last two scores came from Alister and another from Dave MacS. Both were converted by Alex A. The final stages of the game saw the Exiles back line getting some ball, and even the wingers got a taste of the action and looked to be enjoying the space.
Throughout the game the link between forwards and backs was better than any other Exiles game I had witnessed all season. Number 9s James O’B and Stef provided good ball to work with and the strong running from both Eyre and Adrian in the centre was getting the Exiles going. Their line-out was struggling thanks to Steve R and the lifters, and the pack, cheered on by the non-playing prop/winger Barry, blitzed the opposition and claimed a good five scrums against the head.
All in all it was a thoroughly good display and the 9–29 win completed a hat-trick which left the coaching staff suitably pleased, although this was a friendly so the tears were probably a little over the top.
|Old Isleworthians II 9||Ealing Exiles 29|
|Tries:||Tries:||Eyre, Dave MacS (2), Julian, Alister|
|Cons:||Cons:||Alex A (2)|