The Amateurs consolidated their top-three position in the Zoo Shield Division 3 with a hard-fought victory, secured in a dramatic last five minutes over previously unbeaten Bracknell. A win away to league leaders Chichester next Saturday will see Ealing leapfrog their Sussex rivals.
Ealing found themselves 3-0 down after a minute when Bracknell scored with a penalty from 40 metres, a warning that any indiscipline would prove costly. However, with three minutes on the clock the green-and-whites took the lead with a fine team try. Flanker Mike Whitney won clean line-out ball, centre Alex Hazell made inroads into the defence with a typically mazy run, prop Patrizio Bancher drove on and captain and No 8 Adam Hulmston picked up and broke through a tackle to power over, full-back Steve Verma converting from half-way out. Another well-struck penalty on 12 minutes left Bracknell just one point adrift at 7-6.
In a game dominated by the two sets of forwards Ealing held a clear ascendancy in the line-out and were the more potent in maul situations, but at times found it difficult to deal with the power of the Bracknell set scrum. With a quarter of the game gone, Hulmston took a line-out catch on the 22 metre line and flanker Des Crinion touched down after an unstoppable driven maul, Verma adding the extras. Bracknell narrowly missed with another penalty attempt but mounted a series of attacks repelled by some outstanding tackling, notably by the back row of Hulmston, Crinion and Ed Shryane. Eventually Bracknell turned their pressure into points from a quick tap after the hosts were penalised five metres from their try line. With the interval approaching, the eight-point gap was restored when prop Phil Cotter spotted a gap near the touch line with the visitors expecting a pass in-field and shrugged off two attempted tackles. Another Bracknell penalty left the game well poised at the break at 19-14.
In the early period of the second half Ealing played some excellent rugby without reward, but came close to extending their lead when wing Pascal Baptiste, in his best game of the season, had the ball knocked out of his grasp over the try line. A tense 10 minutes followed a harsh yellow card for second-row Sean Kennett, who was adjudged to have taken out an opponent in the air when attempting to catch a 22-metre dropout. Ealing’s 14 men held out with steely determination, but finally conceded when a Bracknell forward touched down under the posts. With two minutes left, the Amateurs faced the prospect of an agonising 21-19 defeat, but in a dramatic finale they turned down a kick at goal from 35 metres and kicked the penalty to touch instead. The line-out was caught, driven and recycled, and after Whitney had driven close to the line, substitute hooker Dave MacSweeney was on hand to pick up and dive over. With a fine conversion by Verma, all that remained was to see out the last passage of play to bring an excellent game to an end.
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