Spartans lose out in seesaw Cup opener
By Andrew Thomson
Wymondham RFC, 18th November 2018
Squad: Aiden Davies, Alfie Funnell, Ben Harvey, Billy Evans, Cheu Hung Lo, Callum Sparkes (captain), Conrad Harrison, Freddie Jenner, Giles Starling, Harry Thomson, Harry Trenerry, Jack Burrell, James Ketteridge, Matt Elsby, Matt Pitcher, Matt Wernham, Oli Reek, Seth Ahier.
Coaches: Neil Davies, Tony Garside, Jon Hood, Jim Starling, Andy Thomson.
Wymondham Spartans 26 - 27 North Walsham
The opening of the 2018 Cup campaign and it’s the big one: North Walsham at home for our first game at Barnard Fields. They beat us in the early rounds of last season’s Cup but we came back to win the final against them. That was a comfortable victory in the end - this though is going to be a much tighter encounter.
The Spartans get the dream start. Walsham knock-on from the kick off and Billy, playing at 10, takes route one from the resulting scrum powering over with less than two minutes on the clock. Ben adds the extras but we’re not ahead for long - both sides trade penalties and with the wind in Walsham’s favour they win the kicking dual and end up deep in our half. They work the ball wide and are in at the corner, capping it with a fine conversion.
It’s their forward play though that makes a full-strength Walsham side such a handful to deal with. Their ability to retain the ball and drive upfield underpins their game plan. We make it worse for ourselves by giving away a succession of penalties and gifting Walsham the perfect attacking position. True to form they set the maul and we can’t stop them. 14-7 down.
Again we level it, thanks to a crafty interception from Harry Thomo, but both our scores have come from individual breaks. What we’re not doing is controlling the game and playing the team rugby we saw on show at Diss last weekend. The reason is we can’t get enough good ball - the Vikings are past masters in the breakdown, well able to keep their own possession and they turn us over far too often. It puts them on the front foot but despite a lack of line speed from the Spartans we tackle hard and deny them outright dominance.
Penalties again cost us dear when Walsham’s loosehead powers over from five metres but they miss the conversion and Billy sets off to right matters with two fine breaks, but Walsham scramble back and without support we’re penalised for holding on. At least we’re back on the attack though and putting them under pressure. It pays off as Conrad intercepts on the cusp of half time, Seth supports, collects the offload and has the power to get over the line. We go into the break 19-all.
The half time talk is about the breakdown and line speed. If we can get good ball we can win this game but we need to meet them on the gain line and contest hard. For a moment it looks like we’ve taken the lesson to heart, but Walsham again put us under sustained pressure and only hard, close-quarters defence keeps them out. We break and get back into their half only to throw a loose pass for Walsham to intercept and gallop back into our 22. Again we get on the wrong side of the ref and Walsham sensible take the points on offer from an easy kick.
It’s the pattern of this see-saw game though that neither team is allowed to build a lead. Wymondham hold up the next Walsham onslaught to regain possession and then win a vital penalty ten metres out from the Walsham line. We turn down the easy points, gamble on a powerful dummy line from Bill and are in under the posts. 26-22 ahead with seven minutes left.
That’s more than enough time for the seesaw to tilt again and Walsham set to with a patient display of controlled short carries from their big men. We meet them with hard tackles again and again but are forced back. The Vikings start on our ten metre line and work their way through the phases all the way back to our try line. We try to keep them out, try to hold them up, but this is their power game and we can’t stop it. The result is a fine try for the visitors to give them an edgy lead with a couple of minutes to go.
Wymondham win the restart and get a lineout on Walsham’s 22. There’s clean ball off the top and we work it wide. For a tantalising moment the overlap is there but it doesn’t last and we fumble the chance. The final scrum unfortunately leaves Walsham’s 9 with a nasty concussion but it’s enough to seal the win for the visitors.
It’s been a bad-tempered game with far too much ill-discipline. Penalties have cost us both territory and opportunity - a rough tally is 11 against Wymondham to only 5 against Walsham. They put us under pressure and we didn’t have the clear heads to do what we do best - find space and attack it.
We were better in the second half, tackled endlessly and players led by Callum put in some huge hits and shifts. The lineout was still work in progress but our scrum held up well against a powerful Walsham pack. We have to be better though at keeping our own ball and we’ve got to look for the offload when the try is on. It’s a game that we could and should have won, though arguably didn’t deserve to. As it is, congratulations go to Walsham for a well-executed win and all the best to Regan, their injured player (who was allowed home after being checked out by paramedics), for a speedy return. Until next time!