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Rosslyn Park denied by the last kick of the game
Titanic clash: Park in action in the 16-16 draw with National League One leaders Ealing Picture: David Whittam
Rosslyn Park came within a whisker of beating National League One leaders Ealing Trailfinders but had to settle for a two points from a titanic 16-16 draw.
Park were leading by three points in the dying moments, but a penalty to the visitors gave Tom Wheatcroft the chance to level the scores with the final kick of the game – which he duly did,
With second-placed Blaydon winning at Tynedale, Park find themselves five points off the top two going into the Christmas break.
Park welcomed back Ross Laidlaw from injury, and the fly-half would kick 11 points, with a penalty try adding to the total.
The hosts conceded an early penalty just inside their own half, but Wheatcroft’s effort did not quite have the legs to reach the goalposts.
If Ealing shaded the early exchanges in terms of territory and possession, then Park probably looked the more dangerous with ball in hand.
A good Park attack won a free kick, the home side elected instead to scrimmage and it was soon clear why, as the out-gunned Ealing conceded a penalty at the set piece. Up stepped Laidlaw to kick his side into a 3-0 lead on eight minutes.
It became a tense midfield battle, with each side having periods of dominance, but each defending excellently.
When Ealing were penalised on their own lineout, Park again opted to scrummage and, enjoying a slight edge in the tight forward play it is surprising that they did not seek to exploit this more, often opting for the aerial route instead.
There was little to choose between two excellent sides, but it was Ealing who blinked first, conceding a penalty on 34 minutes that allowed Laidlaw to increase the lead to 6-0.
Just as it seemed the home side would take that lead into the half-time interval they conceded a penalty for Wheatcroft to narrow the gap to 6-3.
The home lead did not last long after the restart as Ealing forced a further penalty for Wheatcroft to bring them level.
Park replied with a terrific break up the left by Nev Edwards that saw Park settle in and around the visiting 22.
The forwards looked likely to drive over, but when awarded a penalty out wide, Laidlaw was asked to attempt it from an unlikely angle rather than kick to the corner to maintain the pressure.
He missed, but Ealing were unable to clear their lines and soon sinned again, slightly nearer the posts and Laidlaw extracted the price to restore the lead at 9-6 on 47 minutes.
This served only to inspire Ealing to even greater efforts. Park defended well, but a side as good as Ealing need only the sniff of a chance and they got it when a flanker found a rare piece of space in midfield, accelerated into it and then released to supporting winger Andrew Henderson on his left, who streaked in to score.
Wheatcroft added an excellent angled conversion to take the visitors into a 13-9 lead with 20 minutes left.
Park responded by throwing everything at the visitors, who defended brilliantly. When the rapier failed the bludgeon was deployed. The Park forwards mauled Ealing back yard upon yard almost to their own line until the visitors’ number eight, Sam Shires, intervened illegally to prevent an almost inevitable score and was sent to the sin-bin.
Park opted for the scrum and it became Irresistible Force versus Immovable Object as Ealing repelled surge after surge.
A further penalty brought another scrum and another succession of slithering drives, but when Shires returned Park still had not got over.
Still the pressure was all on Ealing and when Park got another good maul moving it was prop Tim Tunnicliffe who intervened illegally and was sent to the bin.
Park again opted for the scrum, but again simply could not get over and eventually worked the ball out to Edwards who was bundled into touch.
With the scoreboard showing time up, it looked all over, but Dan Lloyd-Jones soared at the lineout to divert the ball to his own forwards, who eventually won another scrum.
Park put on an unstoppable drive and when another illegal intervention threatened to stop it, the referee had no hesitation in awarding the penalty try - Laidlaw did not hurry his simple conversion and Park appeared to have pulled the rabbit out of the hat.
The referee told the players there was another minute to play by his stopwatch, the only timing device that mattered.
Ealing kicked off, committing all remaining 14 men to an all-out attack. All Park needed to do was to defend for 60 seconds, or until they got the ball or Ealing made an error. Park got the ball, but knocked on for a scrum to Ealing.
Time was now up; Park had dominated the scrum all afternoon and had only to worry about Ealing getting quick ball and a spectacular drop goal.
But as the ball emerged from the scrum they panicked and conceded an unnecessary penalty, from which Wheatcroft pulled Ealing’s irons from the fire with the last kick of the match.
Park return to action on January 5 at Cinderford.