Terrific Old Albanian win away at league-leaders Ealing
THE first meeting of these two sides in two years was awaited with some trepidation by many Albanian spectators who remembered travelling to Vallis Way and returning somewhat chastened when both clubs were in a lower league, writes Brian Quinn.
These perceptions were probably heightened by Ealing’s excellent, unbeaten record in the nine games played so far this year. The draw against Richmond had put the only dent in the hosts’ armour and Wharfedale had been well beaten in Yorkshire the previous week, leaving Ealing clear league leaders and everyone else playing catch-up.
Matters were not helped when, after a scoreless first quarter, skipper Ben Ward put over an easy penalty to open Ealing’s account.
Two minutes later centre Sam Wardingley ghosted through a stretched Albanian defence after superb interplay on the right and Ward obliged with the conversion, taking his side to double figures. Philip Chesters, the bane of so many defenders, typically rode several tackles on his way into the left corner but too wide out for his captain to convert.
A 15-point lead was a good way to end the first half-hour. Thus far the game had been played at a frenetic pace and Ealing had taken advantage of every opportunity offered to them.
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However, the visitors had kept pace and the back row had maintained the dramatic improvement shown the previous week to deny Trailfinders an even bigger lead and keep Albanian possession when perhaps it might have been lost earlier in the season.
A titanic struggle was developing in midfield marshalled in attack and defence by James Shanahan and the visitors’ effort finally bore fruit when Ollie Marchon scored their first try after the ball had been cleverly kept in play. Lawrence Rayner’s conversion attempt came back off the upright.
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Ealing restored the gap just before the break with a Rory Damant try improved by Ronnie McLean.
OAs have made a habit this year of scoring quantities of points when logic dictated perhaps a greater emphasis on defence was indicated. In the first half several factors had gone well. Possession had been maintained, the scrum and lineout were secure and the close work of the forwards was, at least, the equal of their opposition.
In midfield, holes had been made in the Ealing defence and, in general, the team seemed to believe the task of closing the points gap was not beyond them.
Ealing, having lost No.8 Gavin Curry after two minutes now saw influential captain Ward leave the field with a broken wrist.
Three minutes after the restart Matt Chambers surged over after a clever attack had switched from left to right. Rayner’s conversion bisected the posts and, although McLean was successful with another Ealing penalty 10 minutes in, the OA fightback had begun.
The match entered Ealing territory and seemed to stay there. OAs now had the upper hand at the breakdown and the recycling work done by the forwards drove the home side back bit by bit.
Leading from the front after 13 minutes Shanahan dummied outrageously and crossed wide out on the right. Rayner could not oblige with the extras but made amends six minutes later when put through by his coach. His conversion brought his side incredibly to within one point of the league leaders.
This had been a remorseless attacking 10 minutes for Albanians who were now a bonus point to the good.
It got even better. There was something almost inexorable about the last quarter. OAs’ forward dominance increased and the ball was switched right and left, long and short in the search for a defensive frailty.
There were no mistakes and there was no loss of discipline which might have thwarted the chase for a famous win. Finally, and with almost no room to move in, Sam Collins beat two desperate defenders to the left corner for Rayner to convert peerlessly from the touchline.
This victory takes Albanians into mid-table; more importantly it will have provided the whole squad with the self-belief necessary to thrive in National One. Cinderford are the visitors to Woollams on Saturday and as everyone now knows there are no easy games in this league, kick-off 3pm.