We travelled up the A11 to Norwich with optimism. Since we have been back at the same level as Norwich we have never been beaten by the Norfolk side. Our flying wingers from last week were both unavailable; Jonny Regan and Francois Eve were the capable replacements out wide. Charlie Searle was in at hooker and Dean James had recovered from an ankle injury to resume in the back row.
It was a lovely day for rugby, with the Autumn sun warming our backs.
Cantabs kicked off towards the sun and soon had Norwich under pressure in the scrum which came from a knock-on. But it was Norwich who had the first chance to trouble the electronic scoreboard, with a penalty attempt just two metres inside our 10m line. The kick fell short and James Hayward returned the kick with interest forcing a knock-on just short of the halfway line. Cantabs, with Paul Pudney and Finn Morrison making the most incisive breaks, were forcing the pace but never looked liked scoring in the first quarter. Norwich were being beaten in the rucks but still looked the more likely to score when they ran the ball at us. Some good defending from Cantabs held Norwich up just short of our try line.
After 20 minutes, Drew Tilley was forced to retire from the game with a dead leg; Pete Collins taking over. Pudney made ground down the right but was tackled well into touch. The Norwich throw was crooked, and we won the scrum, drawing the penalty on the 22m line. James Hayward stepped up and slotted the kick; 0-3. Francois Eve was then involved three times on the left wing but his final pass back inside did not go to hand. However, it showed Cantabs intent to open up the game. Next attacking move came courtesy of Jonny Heaver who got free in the centre and made it up to the 22. Norwich were penalised at the ruck, and James Hayward duplicated his first effort; 0 - 6 after 30 minutes.
Norwich fought back straight away, gained a penalty and found the right hand corner with the kick. The lineout was won by the home side and at the third attempt, the try finally came. This was unconverted, but at 5 - 6 Cantabs had a game on their hands.
The restart was perfect, Francois catching the ball cleanly and setting up the ruck. Cantabs pressed and won a scrum 35m out on the right. Norwich pack fell apart and we witnessed the Cantabs eight trundling forward for 20m totally unopposed. One of their forwards then dived into the resulting maul, causing Richard Knight to switch the ball to the backs. It was passed cleanly out to the left and Francois dived over for the try in the corner. Hayward's kick went close, but Cantabs were ahead at 5 - 11 with less than a minute to half time.
No changes at half time, but with Richard Knight hobbling from an ankle knock, it was only a matter of time. Cantabs were the first to show attacking intent, but a penalty forced us into the corner. The Norwich lineout did its job and Cantabs were defending desperately to keep the Norfolk men out. Norwich appeared to score, but were called back for crossing. We kicked the penalty up to halfway but our lineout was lost and Norwich came straight back at us. We were penalised for not binding in the scrum and again were defending a lineout in the corner. Again Norwich made the try line and again the try was denied for obstruction. This second let-off seemed to gel Cantabs into serious action.
Ryan Colclough was now on for Charlie at hooker, and Richard Knight had finally succumbed and limped off. Dean James took over at scrum half. Then we took the game to a tiring Norwich. Perksy was involved in three strong drives in succession, Jonny Heaver kept the ball alive on our left touch line and when it was recycled to the backs, Dean and Finn released James Hayward. His grubber kick through the defence, out to the right, was hit perfectly. Jonny Regan was first to the ball, and hacked on. Again Jonny was first to the ball as it skidded beyond the try line and he touched down. James kicked the conversion from wide on the right and we were on the way at 5 - 18.
Norwich put Cantabs under pressure with a kick through our defence and we were forced to carry the ball over our try line to give Norwich a five metre scrum. Cantabs won this one against the head and cleared the danger. We ran the ball out, then Hayward took over. He started his run on our ten metre line, sliced through the defence, timed his pass to perfection to the inevitable Finn Morrison on his left in support and he scored under the posts. No problem for James with the conversion to make it 5 - 25.
Cantabs were now well on top and the bonus point try came with ten minutes to go. Some lovely inter-passing put Regan clear on the right and although he looked to have been tackled he stretched out to just make the line for his second try of the match. This time James could not add the extra, but the game was effectively over at 5 - 30.
To their credit Norwich continued to press and a period of sustained pressure culminated in a converted try when the game was almost up. Cantabs then played out the last couple of minutes in the Norwich 22, before the referee blew for time.
Four wins on the bounce and this one moved us up to 3rd in the division. My man of the match and also the choice of the Norwich supporters around me, was Finn Morrison; he was everywhere. We out-battled Norwich in the rucks and Finn was always there making his presence felt. We were the stronger and fitter in the forwards and it is going to take a good team to stop our improvement. The big test comes next week when league leaders Diss are the visitors. Join me for one of Jeff Railton's lunches before we get behind the lads as we try to repeat last season's win against the title favourites.