What a day, what a game, what a weekend……………………….!
”Days like this are what we live for", not a quote from Ealing’s Director of Rugby Mike Cudmore, but from Ealing Evergreen stalwart Bill "There’s only 1 Bill Miller“ Miller following the titanic struggle at the Athletic Ground on Saturday, which saw Ealing extend their lead at the top of National 2 South to 11 points over 2nd placed Jersey, who rested this weekend, and 12 over Richmond who were denied a losing bonus point by Ealing scrum half Morgan Thompson’s 78th minute snap drop goal.
Ealing skipper Ben Ward, knew the importance of the game, but was keen to point out it was just another game in a 30 game season. He said, "It was a big game for us to go away from home and win. The support was amazing and really pushed us on when the going got tough. We are pleased to have not let them got a bonus point and now we must move on and focus on the next game. Westcombe Park are a better team than their league position suggests and a tough place to go and visit."
Ealing awoke on Saturday to grey West London weather and wind gusting around, threatening to spoil what was to be so far the game of the season to date. Richmond were up for this match and had been since December when the fixture was curtailed due to the snow.
Richmond Director Tony Gadsby Peet set the tone as early as Thursday evening with his appearance on BBC Radio London’s The Scrum, when asked if his side fancied their chances, he replied “I think we fancy our chances quite well ……….”. So, here is the scene – Ealing Trailfinders top of National 2 South, Richmond in 3rd place, having won 15 games on the trot………….
Arriving at the Athletic Ground, there were rumours emanating from the pre game lunch from the Richmond alikido’s that Ealing were there for the taking, their pack hadn’t been tested as they would be today, and that The Mond could crack holes in the Vallis Way side’s much heralded defence. Ealing arrived boosted by the fact that they had scored 126 tries, (128 by 4.40pm on Saturday) and only conceding 262 points all season.
Something was going to crack – Would it be Mond’s 15 match winning streak, or would the Vallis Way side’s defence?
During the pre game warm up, Ealing looked confident, they looked like a team that knew they could trust the 20 players in the match day squad. This confidence was added to by the travelling support from West London. Ealing’s senior teams were there in abundance – added to that the mini and youth sections were there in force, an official crowd of over 1000, The Green and White Army were on a mission.
Ealing from 1-20 were simple outstanding – to go to Richmond, a team on a high following a run of 15 wins on the trot, and to keep them from crossing their try line, when on two separate occasions referee Ross Campbell decided that second row Ryan Gregory and number 8 Anders Nilsson had overstepped the laws of the game, was magnificent.
So was the final result a true reflection of the game? Without a doubt Ealing arrived looking intent on spreading the Richmond team around the pitch at the Athletic Ground. Ben Ward’s team showed from the outset that the ambition that has bought them 126 tries so far this season, but in Ross Broadfoot they had a stand off who has the ability to control the game. What they did seem to lack in the first period and for large patches of the second, was a plan B. Too often during the first half, Richmond sent in runners who became isolated, and Ealing back row of number 8 Anders Nilsson, & flankers Karl Gibson and Lee Starling were simply too quick to the break down for their hosts. They either slowed the ball down or turned the Richmond team possession over.
Ealing begun the game brightly, the early parts of the game were dominated by the strong cross wind that spectators in the stand were sheltered from, those brave souls on the other sides however felt the full force. Ealing moved the ball around confidently and put some good phases of play together, and wing Owen Bruynseels was unlucky not to collect a deft cross kick from skipper Ben Ward. The Richmond defence survived this early test. It was the home side’s turn to put Ealing under pressure and a long raking kick from Ross Broadfoot put Ealing back into their 22. Ealing won the resulting lineout and patiently through the forwards moved the ball into midfield.
Richmond were penalised by the eagle eyed Ross Campbell, who made difficult but correct decisions all day, for holding on at the breakdown. Ben Ward’s quick thinking from the resulting penalty saw the stand off kick down field, the Richmond defence scrambled back, with the predatory Phil Chesters and centre Joe Price (who had a fine defensive game) on the hoof. Richmond gathered the ball but were slow in clearing the kick. Chesters charged the ball down, and with a kindly bounce, he went over for his 40th league try of the campaign, finally the monkey is off his back and he can begin to enjoy his rugby!
The strong wind was evident as Neil Hallett lined his conversion up from wide on the left hand side. As it went skyward, so the wind took it across the front of the Richmond posts. After 8 minutes Ealing led by 0-5.
Richmond responded, they preferred to take the Ealing 8 on with close pick and goes, sending midfield runners into contact, maybe looking for the referee to penalise the visitors defence, did they not trust their men out wide, or was the pace of Bruynseels and Chesters too much for them? Broadfoot was getting them deep into the Ealing half, but the hosts lineout was being frustrated by the Ealing forwards, Ryan Gregory and Matt Evans were plucking the ball from the home side on regular occasions and frustrating their attacks and they failed to build any sustained pressure.
On 31 minutes Ross Broadfoot made amended for his missed penalty on 13 minutes, with a well struck kick judging the wind to perfection to bring the score line back to 3-5 to Ealing.
Ealing were not panicking and again looking like a team that knew their limits they continued to play with control, and were not flustered as Richmond continued to defend manfully. Just before half time, following a scrum on the right just inside the Richmond half, Ben Ward launched an inside pass to right wing Owen Bruynseels. He hit the gap at speed, breaking the Richmond defence and look odds on to cruise under the posts unopposed, but Mr Campbell after consulting his touch judge pulled the Ealing wing back for crossing, no complaints seemed to emanate from the stands were the Green and White army was gathered.
As the game entered the final 10 minutes Ealing looked to increase their lead. Both sides defence had "fronted up", and on 38 minutes it was Ealing’s man of the match, full back Neil Hallett that extended the lead with a well taken and deserved try. Ealing’s second row Matt Evans, received the ball following a quick ruck, he hit the gap and suddenly found himself in acres of space, he was faced by the home side’s full back, James Brooks. He deftly chipped over the advancing ex Leeds and Wasps man and you could see his giant strides eat the ground up. The Mond defence scrambled back, as Ealing forged forward and they regained possession. Play shifted to the right of the Richmond posts, Ealing looked to re gather themselves, prop Steve Neville and blind side Karl Gibson took control and set up another ruck. The ball was transferred to the left from Ward to Joe Price, Chesters wide out on the left held the home defence, and Hallett’s incisive angled run took the outstanding full back over for the visitors second try of the day.
Could he convert his own try? He judged the wind wonderfully to see the ball sail between the posts to extend Ealing Trailfinders lead as the half time whistle blew to 3 -12.
Ealing were playing the conditions well, and Ealing Director of Rugby Mike Cudmore would have been looking for his side to build on this during the second period. He said “I was happy with our overall game in the first half. In the second half we had to over defend due to errors and indiscipline. Playing a team away from home who were unbeaten in the last 15 games with 14 men for twenty minutes was always going to be a big task but the team showed their commitment and want throughout and kept Richmond out. Although I am very happy with the win and the commitment shown we will be working hard on the key areas we need to improve on".
Could both sides maintain the level of commitment into the second half? The Green and White Army have become used to seeing Ealing cut loose in the second half of games, but the defence of both teams showed that something special would be needed. Richmond entered the fray and immediately took the game to their visitors, launching attack after attack at the Ealing line. Still Ealing held firm. It was as if the decision had been made that no one would cross their try line on this day!
On 47 minutes following a series of Richmond pick and goes, referee Mr Campbell, after issuing a warning to Ealing, adjudged Ryan Gregory to have killed the ball once too often, With that he was dispatched to the sin bin with the ring of the Richmond match commentator in his ears. Richmond’s Broadfoot kicked the relatively simple penalty, (was anything simple if that wind!?) to bring the Richmond deficit back to 6-12.
Richmond were on the ascendancy now, and very much looking to take advantage of their numerical advantage. Ealing were just not able to get their hands on the ball, and Richmond mounted attack after attack.
Possibly it was playing into Ealing’s hands, time and again Richmond’s runners were going into the contact zone alone, becoming isolated and allowing the Ealing defence to fan out across the pitch. The clock ticked down, and despite Richmond receiving further penalties they continued to opt for the scrum. Still Ealing were not yielding. Ealing’s 7 man scrummage was still solid against the Richmond 8, but they continued to take scrummages when on offer believing they could out muscle the visitors. Did this cost them the chance of victory when three points were on offer? Maybe, but then again decisions like these are what makes sport so absorbing.
Ryan Gregory returned to the field, his team mates had ensured that only three points had been conceded……. Within two minutes of his returning, number 8 Anders Nilsson suffered the same fate, and was also despatched to the bin for infringing at the breakdown. Surely now Richmond could take advantage …..
Still they opted for the scum mage, still the Ealing team held them out, still defending as if their lives depended on it………….Remind anyone of New Zealand v England, Wellington 14 June, 2003?
Another missed penalty on 64 minutes from Ross Broadfoot, another collective sigh of relief from the travelling hordes of Ealing supporters – could they continue to hold out?
Again the clock ticked by, again and again the Ealing defence held firm. Mike Cudmore sent on replacements for his heroic forwards, Ben Griffiths came on for Ryan Gregory whilst Sonny Kuwango replaced Lewis Brown. Just before Nilsson returned to the battle after his enforced rest, Dinos Alexopolous replaced
Steve Neville on 67 minutes – The look on Steve face showed the 100% commitment that he had shown. Hardly able to speak to walked slowly towards the dug out – and slowly the smile spread across his face!
Back to their full compliment of players and with just over 13 minutes to play, both sides aware that a score either way could make or break the game: Richmond pushed the ball wide to find their winger for once, the final pass went to ground, Ealing recovered possession and with that began to wind down the clock.
Ealing pressed forward, forcing a scrum on the Richmond 22m line – from the resulting ruck, scrum half Morgan Thompson broke Richmond hearts, with a snap drop goal from just outside the 22m, the ball very nearly taking the paint from the crossbar as it sailed over…………….. 6-15 with less than two minutes to play – Ealing were home and dry – no bonus point on this occasion, no one will mind. A team performance and a mature performance that saw the league leaders show they have the ability to close tight games out when required.
Celebration – naturally – the team realised that this was a huge game, but unless they back it up next week then all will have been wasted. To Richmond, gracious in defeat, they had their chances and have shown they are a good team, what Ealing would now like is for them to beat Jersey next weekend!
Ealing’s try scoring hero Neil Hallett said after the game, “I never felt that we were going to lose but with only 6 points in it & down to 14 players for 20 minutes it was a little tense."
"That was easily the most physical game we’ve played this year & there are definitely sore bodies on both sides. A lot has been said this year about our attack but Saturday was when we showed the true spirit & grit of the team by the way we defended! Our reaction & celebrations at the final whistle shows just how much that victory meant to the team & the club."
"There were times in the game when the crowd gave us that extra lift. Cheering every big hit or turnover showed just how great our support can be. Everyone loves playing in the big games, I just hope the crowd is just as good for when we entertain Jersey"
Mike Cudmore echoed Hallett’s comments “Our travelling support were very vocal and that inspired all during a very tough encounter. The singing and celebration at the end with our supporters was something very special to be a part of and see”.
For match photos – See here. Our thanks to Loretta Thompson.
Next Saturday,12th February, Ealing are back on the road to face Westcombe Park. The following week is another crunch game as they entertain Jersey in a game that could go a long way to deciding who will become champions of National 2 South.
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