A closely fought affair between two of the hottest teams in English rugby’s second tier resulted in an Ealing victory at Goldington Road on Saturday afternoon, as the Trailfinders gained maximum points to begin their title chase.
October well and truly arrived at Goldington Road in grey and slippery conditions as Ealing Trailfinders came to town looking to kick off their Championship campaign with a win, but Bedford Blues’ three victories in a row in the cup left them in good stead to cause an upset.
Mike Rayer’s side started very well; the very obvious tactic of putting boot to ball paying dividends as Will Maisey’s deft chip out to the right wing was easily collected by Seán French in acres of space to dot down in the corner, and with Maisey nailing an excellent conversion, the Blues led 7-0.
Sin bins cost Blues
A fine start it may have been, but after going behind early, Ealing stepped up the pressure, arguably assisted by some strict refereeing from Mike Hudson who gave two quickfire yellow cards for Jordan Onojaife and then the captain, Alex Day, much to the derision of the home fans.
Defending with fourteen men is hard enough, but almost impossible with thirteen and the inevitable score came moments later as the ball was floated out wide to the spare man, Cian Kelleher to stroll in for an easy try.
Reuben Bird-Tulloch, one of a number of former Bedford players on the field, took the visitors into the lead for the first time with a try of his own before the Blues were restored to a full compliment of players.
It was only a matter of minutes before they were down a man again though; a third yellow card shown to Oisin Heffernan and as Ealing scored their third try – Kelleher’s second – the crowd were ready to explode.
They were cheering towards the end of the first half as Kieran Curran stormed over and with Maisey’s conversion sailing over, Ealing lead 19-14 at the end of what was a contentious and controversial first forty minutes.
Blues battle in vain
The first fifteen minutes of the second half were combative and scrappy, demonstrated by a bundling mess of a try to secure the Ealing bonus point, but with the visitors’ lead extended to twelve, the Trailfinders would not have cared for the beauty.
The second period was becoming more about mistakes and handbags than any moments of magic; handling errors creeping in on both sides and minor scraps breaking out across the pitch as the game became blistered, but as the clock ticked down, Ealing still led 26-14.
On the hour mark, the Blues reignited the contest as substitute, Jac Arthur broke clear and despite being brought down just short of the try line, it was another substitute in Ethan Grayson who picked up the pieces to stretch over.
A penalty in front of the posts took Ealing out to an eight-point advantage heading into the final ten minutes of the encounter, and with more refereeing decisions going against the Blues, it felt like the world was against them.
Two very late tries for the visitors inflated the scoreline and were the final nails in the coffin of a brutal encounter and despite a couple of late surges from Matt Worley and then Seán French, the Blues could not find a way back in as Ealing won 41-21.
Ealing found it tough going at times, although were at their clinical best in moments, but while Bedford Blues defended heroically, they were hampered by refereeing decisions going against them and a critical period with thirteen men in the first half was damaging.
Elsewhere, Championship debutants Cambridge put up a great fight at Ampthill but the Bedfordshire side squeezed home 28-26, while Doncaster Knights also won by two points against Hartpury.
Nottingham were excellent in the north west as they beat Caldy 44-31, while Cornish Pirates opened their season with a 21-0 victory against London Scottish on Friday night.