Cantabs travelled to West Norfolk without a recognised scrum half; Sean Cooper having been volunteered for the role. Dean James moved to No 8 for the first time in some seasons, and he was joined in the back row by Finn Morrison, who had missed the game against Wymondham, and Luke Townsend. With Jos Crush returning to flyhalf and James Hayward at inside centre, alongside captain Alan Barker we had the guys to create some excitement in the backs. There were 1st XV debuts for Jack Hopkins. Matthew Jayasekara and Sam Featherstone; who as a group completed our backs as wingers and fullback. Cantabs had won the home fixture against Wests back in October, a win that terminated a long run of defeats against them. At the start of this match both clubs were tied on 28 points from 14 games, so all to play for.
Cantabs kicked off, on a bright and windless day, on a yielding pitch, which was going to cut up. Wests had the early possession for long periods, with Cantabs defending ferociously; none more so than Dean James who was tackling with venom. A succession of penalties against Cantabs kept us pinned back in our half and we only managed one serious attack in the first quarter, which resulted in a knock-on in the opposition 22. Then after 17 minutes play the Wests flyhalf found a gap thirty metres out and scored to the right of the posts. His conversion hardly left the ground, 5 - 0.
Wests went on the attack from the restart, but got over-complicated trying two switched passes in succession , the second of which was intercepted by James Hayward on halfway. He shot through the defence and ran through un-hindered to score under the posts. 5 - 7 with Alan's conversion. After 26 minutes play Wests had a chance to retake the lead with a penalty from 30 metres out, but this was pulled wide, At this stage the penalty count was 8 - 0. Tom Bailey made yet another break to start the move, the ruck shifted the ball to Jos, and we found space on the left wing with Jack Hopkins. He crossed the try-line under pressure and was adjudged not to have grounded correctly. Now Cantabs were dominating, with our forwards all tackling like demons, our scrum now dominant and our lineout winning well.
Then, another attack with half the team involved saw the ball move out wide, this time to the right, and Matthew Jayasekara scored under pressure out wide. A great kick from Alan brought the score up to 5 - 14.
No further score at half time.
At that point, your correspondent was pressed into touch judge duties, and the reporting became somewhat sketchy and breathless. However, I am pleased to report that most of the jogging was for me returning from under the Wests posts. Cantabs ran up further tries with firstly Matthew scoring his second from a smart pass over the heads of the defence from a five metre scrum out wide on the right. This one went unconverted. The second was from a five metre scrum which wests defended , only to lose control of the ball in the dead ball area. Deano recalled his old scrum-half skills to dive through a melee of legs and make the touch down. Alan just failed with the conversion, but we were 5 - 24 ahead.
With 20 minutes to go Finn Morrison was yellow carded for a high tackle and we had an extended break for an injury to Wests scrumhalf. They took advantage of the numerical advantage to force their way over for a score close to the posts; 12 - 24. Cantabs continued to dominate in the loose, and were soon on the attack. This time
Sean Cooper ignored the overlap on the right and forced his way over close to the right hand corner. Alan landed another difficult conversion and we were well away at 12 - 31.
Cantabs went back on the defence until Finn re-joined, but with the crowd willing on their men, we were now defending hard. Too hard it was ruled; this time Simon New was yellow carded, and from the resulting penalty, Wests again scored their third try; 17 - 31. Cantabs continued to defend well, but our line was again breached in the last move of the game. The try went unconverted, and it was all over at 22 - 31. one point to West Norfolk, five to Cantabs.
Frankly, the score flattered West Norfolk, our lads to a man were up for this one and played extremely well. Our tackling was superb throughout, James Hayward's kicking was a class ahead of his opposite number. All of our subs came on in the second half and performed well. It is difficult to pick a man of the match, when everyone played their hearts out. I am giving it to our backrow of Finn, Luke and Dean for their great tackling throughout the match.
Next match is at home to Thurston, when a win will move us back into the top half of the division.
1 Ryan Moclair, 2 Tom Bailey, 3 Jonny Heaver, 4 Simon New, 5 Jonny Heaver, 6 Luke Townsend,
7 Finn Morrison, 8 Dean James, 9 Sean Cooper, 10 Jos Crush,11 Jack Hopkins,12 James Hayward,
13 Alan Barker (capt),14 Matthew Jayasekara,15 Charlie McConnell,16 Adam Hardy,17 David Masters,
18 Sam Featherstone.