Preview to Ealing (a) 07.01.1205/01/2012
The Malice at Vallis: high hopes for the sequel to the trilogy
Considering that 15 months ago the two clubs had never met before, Ealing and Jersey have formed a pretty intense relationship in a fairly short time. In a fast-changing fixture list, caused to a large extent by both clubs' rise up the league pyramid from different geographical starting points, the rivalry is as intense as any the Islanders have been involved in, at least for the past decade.
It's not yet got to the stage where each chapter in the saga has its own title, The Fight of the Century, The Thriller in Manila etc, but nevertheless Jersey-Ealing IV is a mouth-watering prospect. It's not just the trio of previous encounters between two ambitious clubs, but also first against second in SSE National League One. The long-time leaders are up against the form team, with 11 straight wins leading up to Christmas, and at kick-off just a single measly point separates the two.
There's also greater edge stemming from the fact that just a single promotion spot is available from National One, unlike in 2010/11 when it always seemed likely that whoever missed out on the Nat 2S title would go up anyway via the play-offs. Not that this game is some sort of title decider - Rosslyn Park are also in good form: level on points with Jersey, clutching their boarding cards for the Channel Island trip next week, and potentially able to go top this Saturday with a bonus-point home victory over Cambridge. Fylde, who face Stourbridge at home, are very much in the frame too, so if anything is decided at Vallis Way this weekend, we won't know exactly what until much later in the season.
The hosts will hope that form isn't a major factor, as this would pit a side with 11 straight wins against one whose last eight outings have produced just three wins and a draw, and a points difference of minus one. Chances are that it won't be anything like that clear-cut, especially given the three-week interlude just gone.
Whether it's for the reasons described above, the unattractive rival prospect of packing away the Christmas decorations back home, the well-priced £5 buffet lunch before the game, or the chance of hijacking the Ealing helicopter for the ride home, there is a large contingent of travelling support heading to London for the match. The visiting supporters should make their presence felt at the home team's well-appointed ground, which saw its highest attendance of the season in December when Rosslyn Park were the visitors and 763 people watched.
News from the Jersey camp
The festive break has allowed players an opportunity to rest and recuperate, although after leaving the players to let their hair down at the Christmas Party that followed the game against Blackheath, Director of Rugby Ben Harvey issued strict conditioning schedules for the festive period. Stipulations included 10 press-ups for every mince pie consumed, and five squat thrusts for pigs-in-blankets. But enough about the Christmas Party...
The squad reconvened on Bank Holiday Monday and the 20 players selected for Saturday should be very much ready for action.
Four players definitely miss out through injury: Paul Rodgers and Jon Brennan will play no further part this season following serious knee injuries; Glenn Bryce's shoulder will see him on the sidelines for a little while longer while Toby Clyde-Smith, yet to feature in 2011/12, retains hopes of featuring in the closing months of the campaign.
Few changes are likely in the pack from those who played in the closing games of 2011, though man-of-the-match (against Blackheath) Nick Trower is set to return to the bench as Jim Brownrigg comes back. The main debate elsewhere concerns the half-backs: Nicky Griffiths and Ross Broadfoot are pushing hard to return to the starting line-up, but Dave McCormack and Mike Le Bourgeois have been in fine form and may retain their starting berths. A 21-man squad is travelling, with 17-year-old Chris Levesley featuring once again and a late decision on which five substitutes will warm the bench.
You're joking? For pity's sake do pay attention. Yes, the teams have met before...
Star Wars... In October 2010 Jersey scored four tries (Doherty, Penalty, Trower and Hannay) in a 32-18 triumph, with Phil Chesters and Sungo Kawana responding for the visitors. Ealing supporters still talk about the wind blowing a Jersey restart kick back towards half-way after it had travelled 10 metres, just ahead of the final try, conveniently forgetting that their team didn't know the relevant law and were well-beaten on the day.
The Empire Strikes Back... In West London in February the Islanders completed a double, winning 15-0. These games were the only ones lost by Ealing all season and the Trailfinders' failure to score was the only occasion since way back when (I couldn't trace an exact date, but at least three years) that they've registered 'nil points' on the scoreboard. Donovan Sanders (2 tries) and Mike Le Booj (2 kicks) supplied Jersey's 15 points. Ealing supporters still talk about the appallingly wet weather that day, conveniently forgetting that they were well-beaten on the day.
The Return of the Jedi... Seven months later, and a league higher, and Ealing became the first team to win in Jersey since the unlikely success by Tring two-and-a-half years previously in March 2009. Two tries by Owen Bruynseels against one by Steve O'Brien gave the visitors a 10-5 lead at the break. Phil Chesters' try from a kick ahead on 42 minutes helped increase the lead, with a victory nailed down by the boots of Neil Hallett and Morgan Thompson, resulting in a 26-15 win after Jersey responded through tries by replacements Ashley Maggs and Brendan O'Brien. Jersey supporters still talk about both first-half tries coming from intercepts, and whether Chesters' palming of the ball over the head of the home full-back in the lead-up to his try was legal, conveniently forgetting that they were well-beaten on the day.
The trilogy above sets up a really tempting game. One key factor will be the match-up in the forwards. Jersey's pack was the corner-stone of both wins last season, but was effectively neutralised last September. Both teams have plenty of attacking potential out wide, although it is Ealing who have made the headlines with another prodigious display of try-scoring by Chesters (24 so far) to add to the truly astonishing 70 from last season, which shattered the all-time record for the top four divisions in England, Chris Ashton's 39 at Level Two for Northampton in 2007/08. Fellow winger Bruynseels (11 tries this season to date on top of 33 last season) is not to be over-looked.
Ealing will hope forecasts of calmer weather in London after a wet and windy week are accurate, although the playing surface at Vallis Way has been much improved over the close-season. Beyond that it remains to see which team 'turn up' after a mid-season break that may have disrupted momentum as much as it allowed for rest. If both turn up, then a truly memorable contest could take place.
Ealing in 2011/12
The win in Jersey was the Trailfinders' fourth of the season in as many matches and the winning run was stretched to nine games before an off-day at Barking at the end of October, when Jersey old boy Andrew Henderson was among the scorers in a 22-20 upset win over the leaders.
Since then November and December were something of a roller-coaster - wins at Tynedale and at home to Cambridge were followed by a 24-35 home defeat to Macclesfield, followed by a series of 'squeaky-bum' results leading up to Christmas: a two-point win over Fylde, losses by three and one points to Cov and Rosslyn Park respectively, and a 27-27 draw with Blackheath.
The final outing of 2011 saw Rosslyn Park edge a thriller. Though outscored by three tries to one by Neil Hallett, the kicking efforts of Ben Ward and Hallett kept Ealing in touch until a late Ross Laidlaw penalty sealed the win for Park.
The Ealing squad is based on the successful unit of 2010/11, strengthened in several areas by DoR Mike Cudmore. In the backs, while Messrs Chesters and Bruynseels are the main try scorers, while the kicking duties have been split between Ben Ward, the usual choice at fly-half and scorer of 67 points thus far, and Neil Hallett, who has featured at 10, 12 and 15 this season as well as from the bench, notching 121 points.
Service to the wingers stems from the boot of Ward, plus the play-making of centres Ronnie McLean and Sam Wardingley, while full-back Peter Hodgkinson must draw his fair share of covering defenders. The one area of flux in the back-line has been at scrum-half: Morgan Thompson started the opening nine games but has since disappeared from the line-up, with three incumbents since then, most recently the former London Scottish player Callum Grant who played in the final two matches pre-Christmas.
A key summer signing in the pack was prop Tim Brockett from Dings Crusaders - he has played every game, while others to watch include the combative openside Lee Starling and former Harlequins lock Sam Twomey.
Ealing's status as league leaders shouldn't leave any doubts about whether the team have an effective pack, but nevertheless this is a unit with a point to prove, if only to show that it's not about who scores the tries - a meagre return of 12 tries this season is the lowest by any pack in the division other than Barking and Bees, and well behind Fylde (29) and Jersey (27). 'Feed Chesters and he will score', to paraphrase a football chant.
History of Ealing RFC
Ealing Football Club played its first match in 1869 on Ealing Common, prior to the founding of the RFU in 1871. The early years saw regular fixtures against the likes of Wasps, London Irish, Harlequins, Richmond and Blackheath.
Between 1894 and 1958 the club moved location numerous times and is now located at Trailfinders Sports Ground, just south of the A40 at the upper end of West Ealing. The Trailfinders Sports Club was acquired by the Mike Gooley Trailfinders Charity in 1997. Gooley is a former SAS soldier who set up travel company Trailfinders in 1970 and has been a committed and generous patron of the club which took on the Trailfinders' name.
Ealing's centenary match was played against Harlequins in 1971. The 1970s and '80s saw Ealing playing a high standard of rugby and supplying many county level players for Middlesex.
In 1987 the club finished top of London Division 1 and over the next six years was never lower than 2nd in London 1 or higher than 10th in National 4. Ealing won the Middlesex Cup three times in this period.
In 1996 Ealing were relegated from London 1, but returned to this level (Level Five) during the 'noughties' and were promoted to the national leagues in 2006/07.
Immediately competitive on their return to the national stage, Ealing finished third in three successive seasons, the third of which saw them tied with Rosslyn Park on 113 points each. Park had won more games, including the contests against Ealing by 31-24 and 9-8, and therefore took the play-off spot and ultimately won promotion.
In 2010/11 Trailfinders finally achieved the goal of promotion to Level Three, winning National Two South with a strong display of front running that eventually saw them edge Jersey by four points (132-128). The Islanders' good form meant Ealing couldn't afford to lose, and they rose to the occasion with nine straight wins, including 8-3 at Dings, 130-14 over Hinckley, a minor wobble at the penultimate hurdle before despatching Henley 35-25, and finally 127-19 over Lydney in front of 1,100 spectators at Vallis Way.
Following the game
Don't forget that you can keep up-to-speed with news from the
game through the following channels:
• Preview on BBC Radio Jersey's Sportscene from 6-7pm on Friday, and regular updates on Saturday afternoon
• Preview in Friday's JEP, and full match coverage on Monday
• Scoreflashes on @jerseyrfc Twitter and the 'Rolling Maul' rugby forum
• Match report on Channel 103 on Saturday soon after the final whistle
• Report Sport on Channel TV at 6.15pm on Monday, and online
It was great to hear that after an anxious build-up and concerns about player numbers, the annual Boxing Day game at JRFC turned out to be an excellent match. One veteran spectator said it was one of the most entertaining games he had seen, with an Under-25 team locking horns with their more experienced club-mates. The youth XV eventually prevailed, assisted no doubt by a referee insisting on playing a full 40 minutes in the first 'half', before eventually succumbing to dark threats about the consequences if he were to repeat this heinous crime in the second period. A good crowd were able to enjoy the match, followed by hot or cold beverages, mince pies and other festive trimmings, so well done to all concerned.
This weekend's action on the home front sees Jersey 2nd XV take on Jersey United Banks at St Peter. Saturday's game is scheduled for pitch 4 and kicks off, like the 1st XV game, at 2pm.
Safe travel to all heading across to Ealing, and make some noise! Hope everyone enjoys their weekend's rugby.