THE unerring accuracy of Joe Ford’s boot last night ensured Yorkshire Carnegie secured their place in a maiden Championship final.
The fly-half, expected to join brother George, the England No 10, at Leicester Tigers next season, slotted all six of his penalty attempts to dampen any hopes of an Ealing revival in this semi-final.
Granted, his side lost on the night after centre Luke Peters muscled his way over in the corner with the last play of the tie to edge a 20-18 win that ended Carnegie’s four-match winning run.
That will have disappointed Bryan Redpath’s side but, given they had won the first leg 34-16, their overall lead was still comfortably intact.
Carnegie will face London Irish or Doncaster at Headingley in the Championship final first leg on Wednesday May 17 with the away leg a week later.
Given Irish – who won 19 of their 20 regular league games – prospered 35-3 at Castle Park on Sunday, it would be truly remarkable if it was not them meeting Carnegie for a place in the Premiership. Whoever it is, Redpath’s squad will have to step it up a few notches having safely overcome this potential banana skin.
It was imperative Carnegie did not give Ealing any early encouragement and, to that end, they did not. The loss of openside Richard Mayhew after a head knock inside the opening two minutes could easily have unsettled them but Richard Beck came on and played with his usual efficiency.
Indeed, Redpath’s side showed the first real sign of adventure as they moved the ball wide for Jonah Holmes to break clear down his wing, Chris Elder continuing the movement before being slowed by Curtis Wilson.
Admittedly, Pete Lucock did kick straight into touch when looking to advance his side downfield but the hosts defended that error and all Ealing could muster from the opening quarter was a Aaron Penberthy penalty.
That was soon cancelled out by Ford’s first penalty in the 25th minute although, just moments later, the visitors did score a try out of nothing.
It was imperative Carnegie did not give Ealing any early encouragement and, to that end, they did not.Dave Craven
In an unlikely match-up out wide, former Rotherham Titans lock Barney Maddison got on the outside of Ryan Burrows who, unusually for the Carnegie No 8, was fended off.
It allowed Maddison just enough space to supply Wilson on his inside, the ex-Carnegie winger sprinting in from 40m for Penberthy to convert.
It was their solitary try of the half, however, with the home side producing some timely turnovers, not least from Beck close to his own line, to quell any further fears of conceding.
The most telling spell, though, was just before half-time when they faced four successive scrums on their own 5m line and, having initially conceded penalties on the first two, then eventually repelled the danger.
The ball came clear scrappily after the fourth scrum and Carnegie harried Ealing into an error; they celebrated almost like they had reached the final.
Perhaps they felt they had. Indeed, it was a significant blow to Ealing who, if they had scored another seven points then, would have been just seven behind on aggregate at the start of the second period.
Instead, they came away with nothing and also saw hooker Alun Walker injured in the process.
Trailing just 10-6 on the night at the break, it was clear what Carnegie would do in that second half – add points whenever they were offer.
That is just what they did, every time Ford booted a penalty over, Ealing heads sinking a little further, the legs looking a little more weary. He added two in the opening dozen minutes of the second period without reply, putting his side 12-10 ahead.
Former Wasps winger Holmes – also linked with Leicester next term after his exit was confirmed this week along with Ford and various others – made a searing break to relieve pressure, too.
That said, when Ollie Stedman was yellow-carded for dragging down a maul in the 61st minute, Ealing did exploit the extra space immediately for replacement Rayn Smid to cross.
However, Penberthy was wayward with his conversion and his colleagues were, too, with their handling as Carnegie survived any further damage while down to 14 men, even when another driving maul seemed destined to end in a try.
Instead, Ford levelled the game with his fifth penalty in the 74th minute.
When they conceded another after a strong carry from Burrows, the 26 year-old added another with just 90 seconds remaining of normal time to seemingly hand them victory.
Peters’s late finish in the corner after some fine handling denied them the win but not that promotion chance as Carnegie now start preparations for their final tilt and ending their six-year absence from the top-flight.
Yorkshire Carnegie: Elder; Holmes, Forsyth (Stegmann 55), Lucock, McColl; Ford, Davies (Green 62); Boyce (Beech 40), Nilsen (M Mayhew 62), Faletau (Cusack 57), West, Smith, Stedman, R Mayhew (Beck 2-Myerscough 79), Burrows.
Ealing Trailfinders: Harries: Wilson, Peters, Munro, Jones; Penberthy, Carter (Davies 79); Gibbons (Davis 47), Walker (Lawrence 39), Thiede (Penny 57), Maddison (Casson 70), Townson, Murphy (York 67), Ellis (Smid 53), Bright.