The warm applause from Wharfedale fans as the players left the field after this enthralling, incident-packed match was testament to their team’s sterling performance. Ultimately, the visitors’ professionalism earned them a fourth straight victory, maintaining a 100% record and top spot in the table, but it was undoubtedly a game that the Greens could have won.
With genuine quality and strength in depth in their squad, Ealing must be seen as serious candidates for a rapid return to the Championship following relegation last season, but their promotion credentials received a severe examination at the Avenue. They passed the exam, with credit, but only after enduring a torrid first period in which they were hardly ever allowed out of their own half, and suffering a constant battering from the rampant Greens. That the visitors made it to the interval only 8–0 in arrears was in part due to admirably gritty defence – but that was far from the full story.
Wharfedale should have made more of their first-half superiority. Such was their level of control that it must have been sheer confidence that led skipper James Doherty to opt, three times, for penalties to touch – none of which led to a score – when the posts were well within Tom Davidson’s range. Add to that a splendid ‘try’ from Davidson, initially awarded by the referee, but subsequently ruled out on intervention by a touch-judge, who had spotted an earlier infringement, and the same player’s penalty from half-way that struck a post, and fair to say that Lady Luck was in the Ealing corner.
As it was, the Greens had just a try by Taylor Prell – the full-back scything through the defence in the ninth minute for a scintillating score – and a Davidson penalty to show for almost continuous pressure. At one stage the visitors were reduced to 13 men, over-zealous defensive tactics resulting in yellow cards for forwards Kevin Davis and Arthur Ellis, but despite extended battles on the Ealing line only the penalty was registered as retribution.
The loss of their powerful No 8 Rob Baldwin, injured on the half-hour, was a major blow for the home side, but the Greens’ pack continued to rule the forward exchanges up to the break, with the significant exception of line-outs, where Trailfinders had a telling edge.
What a difference a half-time ‘roasting’ can make! From the restart Ealing, looking a different side, grabbed the initiative. Having robbed an early Greens line-out, they mounted their first sustained assault on the home line. Within eight minutes they had drawn level.
Charges, led first by hooker Davis, then substitute lock Steve Pape, forced the Greens on to the back foot. A penalty to touch and clean take threatened a score, but the Dalesmen held out. Two further penalties were conceded, and on the second – after considerable deliberation – full-back James Love slotted the three points.
It was Love again minutes later, this time his speed taking him past defenders for a left-corner touch-down, his conversion attempt hitting a post.
The Greens looked to fight back, and a penalty to touch inside the Ealing ‘22’ gave hope – quickly dampened by a bungled line-out.
Then, midway through the half things went badly wrong for the home side.
The latest in a series of feisty clashes boiled over, and Doherty received an instant red card for foul play. Love slotted his second penalty for an 11–8 lead, and then home winger Scott Jordan was carded for what Referee Leahy – but few, if any, Greens fans – saw as ‘deliberate knock-on’.
Ealing now capitalised efficiently on their numerical advantage. From the penalty attendant on Jordan’s departure an unstoppable drive took Ellis over for an unconverted try, and ex-Wales international winger, Will Harries, who had had little previous chance to shine on his debut, at last showed his class, finishing off a slick move in the right corner.
With five minutes left on the clock, Love attempted a quick drop-kick conversion to hasten the restart as Ealing belatedly aimed for a bonus point. The Greens were decidedly not in charitable mood, however, and the final stages of the match were fought out largely in midfield.
It was little enough reward for what many felt was Wharfedale’s best showing for some time, but the fact of being the first side this season to deny their professional visitors a full five-point haul was something of a consolation.
Wharfedale: Prell T.; Jordan, Van Sentima, Davidson, Ciognini (Prell J. 68); Bell, Doherty; Beesley (Altham 61), Stockdale (Larkin 55), Armstrong (Howard 42), Willet, Rhodes, Burridge, Howick, Baldwin (Mason 31).