Cantabs always maintained that it was they that should have taken the title in the 19/20 season. A last gasp penalty at West Norfolk in the first game of that season, gave the home side a 33 to 32 win and that was the difference when the season was curtailed by Covid. West Norfolk never came back to Sedley Taylor Road and won the title by a solitary point. Then, when they did return in February of this season for the grudge match, a combination of Cantabs ill discipline and a referee who missed a try had contrived to hand a two point win to Wests. So, Cantabs were out for revenge against a team that had only had four wins all season. Alan Barker was captain for this one, with Danny Richard now well on his way to Oz.
We started the game with the wind at our backs and scored first, which in itself this season is a rarity. It was a good backs move finished off by a darting run down the right by winger Rowan Haines. West Norfolk soon replied after a jinking run from their fly half evaded all attempts to stop him. The conversion was the difference in the two sides with Wests into the lead at 7 - 5 after just nine minutes.
Cantabs were now dominating, James hayward was making good use of the wind with his kicks to touch and Elliot Baines and Rowan on the wings were enjoying the space out wide as our backs started to put some decent moves together. The scrum was holding up well, with Jon Perks back at tight head, and Thomas Barnes won won strike against the head. It was no surprise when Cantabs went ahead again. Rowan chased down a seemingly lost cause as a grubber kick trundled towards the Wests try line. Their winger hesitated Rowan was first to the ball and when it ran loose Francois Eve pounced to score; 7 - 12.
We then saw some lovely wing play from Elliot on the left following another good scrum. He cut inside one man switched back out wide, drew the next defender and timed his inside pass to perfection, finding Thomas Barnes in support, who scored at ease. Finlay used the wind to hit a lovely conversion and we were singing at
7 - 19.
Then the wheels came off. Already Cantabs had looked susceptible to runs through the centre, and Wests flyhalf and outside centre were looking dangerous every time they ran at us. Wests had already had one try denied as a second row had dived into the post, but had perhaps forgotten the law change. Then with our tacklers failing twice to bring down their flyhalf, he ran around our defence to score at the posts. Ten minutes later the pattern repeated and suddenly with two converted tries Wests turned round at halftime 21 - 19 ahead.
Right from the start of the second half Wests repeated the dose and went further ahead at 28 - 19. Our tackling was woeful at times and although we were holding our own in the set plays, the direct running of the West Norfolk big men and their incisive backs saw the game go out of reach for Cantabs. Two more tries and we were out of it at 38 - 19.
There was late consolation for Cantabs, when James Hayward showed what he can do. He took the ball on half way, beat three men with a jinking run, found Rowan out wide and his pass back inside to Francois Eve allowed our centre to touch down under the posts. Finlay drop-kicked the conversion, to save time, but it was not enough. Final score 38 - 26 and we had been doubled by a side that is probably being relegated.
Cantabs took a bonus point out of the game and with Wymondham losing we somehow cling onto fifth place in the division, but with any hopes of promotion long gone now. A season that had promised so much with those eight straight wins up to Christmas has evaporated into dreams of what might have been in 2022. All season we have struggled against hard running teams and with so many changes to the team week in week out we have now lost all consistency. Our fitness and tackling have to be questioned and on this form it is hard to see where the next win is coming from.
1 Charles Searle, 2 Thomas Barnes, 3 Jon Perks, 4 Ed Foster, 5 Jonny Heaver, 6 Tom Stace, 7 Finn Morrison,
8 Rich Ford , 9 Ollie Townsend,1 0 James Hayward, 11 Rowan Haines, 12 Alan Barker (capt), 13 Francois Eve,
14 Elliott Baines, 15 Finlay Laing, 16 Jack Holland, 17 Luke Townsend, 18 Alexander Bentley.
Tries: Francois Eve 2, Rowan Haines, Thomas Barnes
Conversions: Finlay Laing 3