The heavens opened on Friday evening and with the deluge of rain the descended on West London the Vallis Way pitch was more like a swimming pool than a rugby pitch fit for this top of the table National 2 South clash. The ground staff worked some miracles to get the pitch anywhere near a playable state, and it was a credit to both teams that they played a game worthy of its status.
The game however didn’t go to plan, andJersey’s triumph was well deserved. Ealing’s Mike Cudmore had few complaints as the West London’s second slipped to their second defeat of the season as Jersey’s victory cut Ealing’s lead to 8 points at the top of the table. Jersey still have a game in hand, so Ealing will need to keep them at an arms distance for the remainder of the season . It will go all the way to the wire no doubt!
The weather was always going to have a bearing on the outcome of this game. Make no doubt about it, Ealing had their chances, but two tries by centre Donovan Saunders , one in each half was the difference between the sides.
As Jersey’s Director of Rugby Ben Harvey said to The Rugby Paper following the game, " The conditions today didn’t help anyone scoring , but we were determined that we were going to do our job in defence ".
Ealing started the game kicking up the slope, and they created the first try scoring opportunity , when scrum half Morgan Thompson broke free following a wheeled scrum . He linked with Joe Price, but his pass to wing Owen Bruynseels was adjudged to be forward.
As well as handling, kicking was proving tricky, when first Jersey full back Michael Le Bourgeois, who had a fine game throughout given the conditions, spurned an early opportunity to open the scoring for the visitors on 18 minutes, when his penalty , in centre field went wide. Minutes later , the usually reliable Neil Hallett missed an opportunity for the hosts.
Jersey were sending in their forwards in in waves, but the Ealing defence just as they had done at Richmond was holding firm. On 23 minutes following a series of rucks close to the Ealing 22m line, fly half Tommy Turner, ( son of exWales and Newport Dragons Paul Turner ) found a gap, he linked with his half back partner Dave McCormack, whose off load found centre Saunders who crashed over the Ealing line. Le Bourgeois converted to take the lead to 0-7.
Ealing began to build the phases patiently, but some of their handling and protection of the ball was not up to the standard. Chances came, and following a period of sustained pressure , Jersey’s Tommy Turner was pressurised and he spilled the ball. Flanker Karl Gibson hacked through and it was the Jersey fullback Le Bourgeois who came to his sides rescue as he claimed the ball following a footrace, and clearing the danger.
Referee Chris Sharp bought the half to a close, and the game remained on a knife edge . Ealing’s captain Ben Ward said the team felt they were able to turn things around in the second period, " We felt going in to half time we were able to turn the game around if we could look after the ball. Unfortunately we were not able to do this for long enough periods to test the Jersey defence. When they scored their 2nd try it was always going to be tough to chase the game in the conditions. For us it was just one of those days where nothing goes to handand too many errors cough up possession"
The second period would be dictated by a Jersey team intent of using their limited but effective game plan. Their forwards retained the ball, forcing Ealing’s defence to work hard and with Dan Hawkes replacing Turner at stand off, their kicking games pinned Ealing back in their own half for long periods, and effectively gave them the only option of attacking from deep.
Jersey were intent on playing the game in Ealing’s half, and Dan Hawkes and full back Le Bourgeois did just that , time and again kicking the ball up field and inviting Ealing to counter attack. Ealing’s low tackle count for the home side showed that they had plenty of ball to play with , and credit to the Jersey defence for keeping the pressure on their top of the table team, forcing a high number of errors from the Ealing team.
Saunders went over for his and Jersey’s second try of the day on 49 minutes when following a series of drives from the forwards into the heart of the hosts midfield defence, an overlap was created and Saunders went over for and unconverted try
Ealing replaced the live wire flanker Karl Gibson with Blair Morris, and Ben Griffiths coming on for the industrious Ryan Gregory on 50 minutes, Ealing were to go further behind on 53 minutes when they were adjudged to have gone off their feet at the breakdown by Mr Sharp. Le Bourgeois missed the conversion from the right of the posts and Jersey were out to 0-12 ahead.
Jersey replaced Turner at stand off with the powerful kicking game of Dan Hawkes, his remit increased the amount of ball kicked deep in Ealing’s territory. The soaking ground made the job that much harder, but Jersey’s defence shut the attacking flair of Ealing out. A 57th minute Le Bourgeois penalty put the nail in the Ealing coffin and seal Ealing’s first defeat of the season at Vallis Way.
So how will this effect the outcome of the season? Well going into the game there was still plenty of rugby to play in the season and nothing has changed. The team have not become a bad side overnight – Sometimes in rugby things don’t go your way and maybe today this was one fo those days.
Mike Cudmore said " To lose a game is always disappointing but at home makes it even worse based on our recent results. On the day Jersey gave us plenty of ball to play with but our kicking game, retention, patience and being clinical were not of the standards that we set ourselves. Jersey took their opportunities well and played the conditions better than we did. We know what we did not do well and will ensure that this is worked on and put right this week in training".
The good thing about league rugby is that there is only 7 days to put the wrongs right and, next Saturday Ealing travel to Bristol to play a Dings Crusaders side fresh from a close 16-13 victory over Worthing Raiders.
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 – Rob Buchanan 16 – Lewis Brown 17 – Sungo Kuwana, 18 – Ben Griffiths , 19- Blair Morris 20 – Ronald McLean-Dents