Ealing Trailfinders’ Director of Rugby Ben Ward speaks to SWL about the highs and lows of recent seasons, and his team’s hopes for life in the Premiership.
Despite having won five of their six games so far this season and scoring 50 points or more in each of those victories, Ward had already spent four hours in the office before our 8am interview.
There is evidently no sense of complacency from the Trailfinders’ coaching staff, and Ward was quick to display how the focus is shifting to those big Championship battles, and potential Premiership battles in the near-future.
He said: “You’re always searching for the perfect game – it is emotionally draining as coaches sometimes keep asking for more but we have to keep giving players targets.
“We’re trying to set our own standards, we know how tough the Premiership is and we want to keep improving and put ourselves in the best position so that if we do win the league and go up we can compete next year.”
But while this weekend’s opposition Jersey Reds will provide one of those stern tests, there will be no change of approach to go up a gear.
Ward added: “I don’t think we have to focus our guys too much compared to any other game, it’s a lot about concentrating on ourselves, but we love playing against these top Championship teams.
“We’ve blown opposition away in some games recently, I don’t think we’ll be able to do that in the next couple of weeks.
“Though we weren’t able to do it against Cornish Pirates, we need to make sure we dig deep and get the victory.”
If Ealing can get that victory, they will be firm favourites to get promoted.
Their free-scoring has seen them score nearly double the number of points any other team has managed up to now and excluding fixtures against current Premiership teams they have a win percentage of 87.5% in the last three years of the Championship.
But with no Championship wins against any of those Premiership sides, questions have been raised about their ability to take on the big teams if they were promoted.
After citing pre-season and cup wins in recent years against Gloucester, Newcastle Falcons, Saracens (without their international players) and London Irish, Ward outlined why he is confident his side could find a way to compete.
He explained: “Playing that type of opposition week-in week-out helps. When we first came up to the Championship it took us 11 games to get our first win.
“We’ve shown we can compete with the bottom to middle end of the Premiership but the top end is a huge gap, and the teams we have beaten are still better equipped to challenge those teams at the top end at the moment.
“Against Saracens the big things we learnt about were the collision dominance and the speed of ball that you need to play at that intensity.
“We need to become more resilient but I believe in the staff, squad, set-up and facilities that we have here and if we do win promotion there’s no relegation in the first season so I’d like to think we’d have the opportunity to build.”
Being Premiership-ready will not just have its challenges on the field but off it, but Ward also candidly outlined where he saw Ealing’s future place in a 14-team Premiership.
“It’s not a simple process to go into the Premiership, and there’s obviously a lot more politics around shares and that falls above my head but we’re very keen to go to the Premiership.
“Before they moved to Sandy Park, Exeter Chiefs were only getting 1,200 supporters in the Championship – we’re no different at the moment with an average gate of just over 1,000.
“We’ve only been fully professional for six years, we are so new as a side and I’d like to think we’d be able to develop something over a period of time.
“We play really good rugby and that would be something that people would enjoy, Wasps used to be here and they’re not anymore so London is used to having four Premiership sides.
“I hope people will respect us for what we’re doing and enjoy our matchdays, and I think there’s a real family feel which is where I’d like to build us from as a club.”
In concluding, Ward briefly spoke about his sixteen-year journey at the club, which has taken him all the way from London 2 South – the sixth tier on the RFU pyramid – to the brink of the Premiership.
“I think it would be some kind of record for most leagues climbed to get up to the Premiership if we do get promoted, I’m incredibly proud of everyone who’s been a part of this journey both in the past and present.
“If we don’t make it up this year I’ll see it as a failure, but the club is in a very good place regardless.”
Featured Image provided by Ealing Trailfinders RFC, tickets for this Saturday’s clash against Jersey can be purchased here