Spartans fight hard to win arm wrestle with the neighbours
By Andrew Thomson
Crusaders RFC, 13th January 2019
Squad: Aiden Davies, Alfie Funnell, Ben Harvey, Billy Evans, Cheu Hung Lo, Callum Sparkes (captain),Cam Verney, Conrad Harrison, Giles Starling, Harry Thomson, Harry Trenerry, Isaac Birch, Jack Burrill, Jake Garside, James Ketteridge, Joel Holderness, Luke Hayhurst, Matt Wernham, Oli Reek, Seth Ahier, Toba Oladapo.
Coaches: Neil Davies, Tony Garside, Jon Hood, Jim Starling, John Lenihan, Andy Thomson.
Crusaders 0 - 40 Wymondham Spartans
History might tell you there’s 1,500 years separating the Spartans from the Crusaders - in Norfolk rugby terms though it’s just three miles. Cru’s have done a brilliant job rebuilding their Minis and Youth squads and though this game has taken a while to arrange, the result is a proper hard-fought contest that will gladden the heart of any gnarly, soft-hearted, sore-kneeed old forward on the touchline. But that’s enough about Jon and Jim….
It’s a physical affair from the off. Crus have plenty of torque up front and there’s no question of the forwards having a quiet moment. It’s a tussle for dominance with short carries and hard hits. Neither side gain a firm grip on proceedings, but the Spartans are lodged firmly in Cru’s’ half and refuse to be dislodged. Mind you, we find breaking their defensive line no easy thing. We try to get width on the ball but when the moment comes it’s from straight hard carries from first Oli and then Billy who sets up James to score the opener. Jake nails the extras despite a strong cross wind.
The contest continues with no let-up and no sign of Cru’s conceding easy points. They’re quick at the breakdown and we chose not to counter-ruck, keeping players in the wall. Their pick and goes make yards but Wymondham’s forwards prove equally stubborn at chopping them down and the hosts can’t build the attacking platform they’re after. As ever, we’re most dangerous on the counter and when Jack jackals, Jake jinks and once again is just too slippery to stop.
Twelve - nil up after 14 mins is not a bad position to be in but it feels far from comfortable. We’re controlling parts of the game and containing Cru’s’ hard runners, but there’s no sign of their attack flagging.
Their line out lets them down after a penalty offers the chance of gaining territory, but we aren’t clinical enough either, failing to capitalise on a series of scrums. But then they do find space, breaking 40m up field - we scramble back and drag their man down, only to give away a penalty. Again though, the handling errors that dog both teams see the chance go begging for Crus.
We do get it right when Ben, deceptive as ever, dummies and breaks to put us back on the front foot. Cru’s scoop the ball back again but Cam blocks the clearance kick and Jack pounces to score under the posts. Life’s not made any better for the hosts when the restart drops to Conrad who belts up field like the Stig in a new Mustang V8. It’s not been a game with much speed or many miles on the clock, but the injection of pace catches Cru’s off-balance and Jake receives the off-load to score his second.
We’re nearing the break now but Cru’s’ patience with the pick and go game finally wins them a commanding position in our 22. They power forwards, met in turn by waves of Spartans chopping their ankles from under them. It’s a classic try line wrestling match and Cru’s have the oomph to cross, but are frustrated by a jumble of Spartan legs, arms and torsos all holding up the ball. Cru’s set to go again from the 5m scrum but Wymondham steal it against the head and hoof the ball into touch to end the half.
Conrad and Jake immediately double up again at the restart to effectively put the game out of reach for the hosts, with Ben adding the conversion. Our fortunes take a dive though when first a fumble a couple of metres short of their line stops us adding another and then a wrenched ankle sees Jack hobble off. Seth comes oh-so-close from a penalty but Cru’s put in a great defensive shift to keep us out and their set piece scrums start to get the edge on us.
It’s a scrappy spell of play with Wymondham’s backs lacking the fluency normally on show, either holding on to the ball for a fraction too long or failing to exploit the overlaps. But our line speed is good and when Crus again go wide we’re there to disrupt. Giles makes a storming carry to put us back on the attack, we play the patience game working through the phases and Oli rounds it off with an unstoppable 5m charge.
Cru’s again benefit from a penalty and again opt for the scrum. They’ve got the edge there now but the resets run down the clock and our defence is firm - Toba this time nailing a cracking tackle. Cru’s go to the boot but can’t find the accuracy needed in the high wind and the game fizzles to a close.
Wymondham have had to work hard for the score line. This has been no walk-over and Cru’s have fought every inch of the way. As a result the Spartan forwards worked their socks off to contain the hosts pick and go game and this solid win is built on their resolution. It’s been a proper rugby tussle, not pretty at times but played in great spirit and with lessons to learn for both sides.
Men of the Match: a day of huge shifts by the forwards play led by Callum. Seth narrowly gets the nod for his full-blooded ball carrying and rucking. And Ben gets the laurels for the backs, keeping Cru’s guessing and plucking opportunity from scraps.