The Men’s 1sts narrowly missed a second top-three scalp in April, losing to the last move of the game on yet another cold ‘spring’ day.
Fresh from the cup final triumph over old rivals Ruislip three days previously, a strong Men’s 1sts selection were hoping to maintain their impressive end-of-season run, and soon showed evidence of their vastly improved form, taking an early lead with a penalty by Callum Nolan-Hutchinson after turning over early Wimbledon possession. They lost wing Afzaal Mir, who later the evening won the award for most improved player, to a dead leg after only five minutes, and it was his replacement Rasaan Samms who extended the lead after neat passing along the back line and quick recycling. Wimbledon’s preferred tactic was to use forward physicality to batter their way to the line, but Ealing held firm against a succession of short penalties and scrums taken in lieu of kicks. With a quarter of the game gone the visitors were 15 points to the good courtesy of a second try for Samms, and with five minutes to go before the break centre Luca Townshend touched down after a fine run down the left, Nolan-Hutchinson nailing the conversion in the gusting wind. Wimbledon kept to their forward-oriented game plan and cut the lead to 22-7 through a driven maul.
The hosts began the second half strongly, scoring on the wing immediately after the re-start and winning six penalties within a few minutes. Another injury, this time to wing Chris Rose, necessitated positional changes, with flanker Alfie Hill moving out to centre. Soon afterwards the lead was cut to just three points, and after second-row Oscar Avis was also sidelined with a facial injury Wimbledon took the lead for the first time. The lead did not last long, however, with smooth passing along the back line putting centre Charlie Mansell into space. Wimbledon’s forwards then drove powerfully over the line with a try awarded despite Ealing claiming to have a hand under the ball, leaving the tie delicately poised at 31-29 in favour of the hosts. Nolan-Hutchinson missed the target with a long-range penalty attempt, but succeeded with another more straightforward one to leave Ealing one point ahead with the final whistle approaching. Wimbledon gained possession from the re-start and snatched victory at the death, when Ealing’s defence was eventually breached.
A losing bonus and another bonus for scoring four tries left Ealing in 8th place in the final Zoo Shield 2 table on 54 points, beaten to 7th only by London Irish’s higher number of wins – a creditable achievement after a dispiriting run of nine defeats earlier in the season.
Team: Tim Hitchcock, Liam McDonagh, Pat Nash, John Worthington, Oscar Avis, Alfie Hill, Stephen John, James Wilson, Dan Thomas, Callum Nolan-Hutchinson, Chris Rose, Luca Townshend, Charles Mansell, Afzaal Mir, Harry Vidler
Replacements: Charlie Bannister, Andrew Barton, Rasaan Samms