Third-placed Ely Tigers prove best of rest behind title rivals in London Three Eastern Counties
- Credit: Archant
Ely Tigers were sitting in third place in London Three Eastern Counties when all rugby below the Premiership was cancelled due to the coronavirus pandemic.
They had entered the 2019/20 season under new captain Matt McCarthy, looking to improve on the previous campaign’s third-place finish with most the squad still ni place.
Luke Turner had gone to university, while John Dibb dropped down to play in the development side, but an opening day win over Beccles got them off to a good start.
A 44-22 win at Ipswich YM followed, although James Buckland suffered a season-ending injury, before Tigers roared to a 111-3 win over Crusaders.
October saw two league games played, with a home win against Fakenham followed by a close loss at Thetford, and Tigers edged past Thurston (24-21) in November.
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A disappointing 25-8 defeat at Woodbridge was followed by a win over Wisbech, as Ely hovered around the top three behind title rivals West Norfolk and Cantabs.
Tigers hosted West Norfolk in December, but fell to a 29-14 loss, and then visited Cantabs a week later, where Scott Macfarlane was sent off early in the second half in a pivotal moment.
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The home side were awarded two penalty tries in their 24-17 success, but Ely began the new year with a home win over Ipswich YM and victory at Crusaders.
A 22-21 loss at Fakenham in February was followed by a 15-0 win over Thetford, but Ely then lost 25-20 at Thurston, before beating Woodbridge (18-10) in what turned out to be their last match of the season.
Player availability was a problem throughout, with the Ely coaches unable to name the same side in successive fixtures, but the stop-start nature of an 11-team division did not help when it came to trying to build momentum either.
McCarthy, Jacob Muncey, Joel Scott Paul and Nathan Brooks were all called up to the Cambridgeshire county side, while Byron Reed, Jack Yates, Seb Catley and Tom Holloway were selected by the Eastern Counties under-20s and the development side got the results their performances deserved.
Captain McCarthy said: “After a positive and well-organised pre-season, thanks in part to the club’s decision to invest in new equipment to help with strength and conditioning, we started emphatically.
“The middle part of the season, though, saw mixed results. A major factor for this was key injuries and unavailability, meaning the team was chopping and changing from week to week and consistency and momentum were difficult to maintain in the battle to catch the top two.
“As our injury woes were coming to an end there was a real positivity throughout the team. Training was well attended and focused going into the final third of the season, this gave us the confidence that we were heading in the right direction to get some much-needed bonus-point victories.
“Having a fantastic home record, winning eight of our nine games, was no doubt helped by the improved support we had at every home game. This was a result of the tremendous work the club and our main sponsors Cambridge Commodities have put in to improving the match-day experience.
“Ultimately as we reflect on the season, third was apt. I’m confident the 2020/21 season will bring a more promising finish, though.
“Our develpoment squad is now really pushing the first team for positions, which means we have good squad depth which is great for selection going forward.
“There will also be a new group of colts making the step up to senior rugby. It will be great to add their youth and enthusiasm to both teams for the upcoming season.”