Spartans through to Norfolk Cup Final
By Andrew Thomson
Holt RFC, 3rd March 2019
Squad: Aiden Davies, Alfie Funnell, Ben Harvey, Billy Evans, Callum Sparkes (captain), Cheu Hung Lo, Conrad Harrison, Elliot Moore, Giles Starling, Harry Trenerry, Isaac Birch, James Ketteridge, Joel Holderness, Matt Elsby, Matt Wernham, Oli Reek, Toba Oladapo
Coaches: Tony Garside, Jon Hood, Jim Starling, Andy Thomson.
Holt 13 - 40 Wymondham Spartans
Simple. That’s how we want things today. Simple rugby, get the basics right and rediscover some of the form that’s gone AWOL in recent weeks. Holt haven’t had much luck in the Cup this season but they did put five tries past an under-strength Spartan team in December. We won that day but we need to treat them with respect, play smart and hard, and patiently build our way to a win.
That’s the theory. Then reality starts to get in the way. We’re again missing a few players and the rain returns for the first time in weeks. The Spartans, led by Callum, are properly fired up though and meet the first phases of Holt attacks with determined tackles. Cheu Hung makes sure there’s no opening and once we get possession Bill opts for a cross field kick that nearly puts Joel in.
Holt have the best of the opening minutes, building pressure with direct carries and using uncontested scrums (they’re short of a tighthead) to attack. They get within five metres of our line and win a penalty when we’re off side, but we rip possession and Matt W breaks on the wing, feeding Billy and then Oli who puts in a long left-handed pass that sadly doesn’t go to hand but shows how quickly we can turn defence into attack.
The first points come after Ben chips though and Holt fumble it on their 22 leaving Billy to slip through tackles and score under the posts. The uncontested scrums mean defenders have to be lightning quick - AJ flies off the next (Holt) scrum to stop their flanker’s cheeky blindside break. The ref’s in the way though so they get the put in again, go to the open, win a penalty and we’re defending another lineout five metres from our try line.
Matt W again stops them in their tracks and James jackals twice to win penalties and put us back on the attack. It means our defence has kept them out twice - their defence, however, proves more vulnerable. We attack from a centre field breakdown, Bill (at 10) carries and passes back inside to Oli who’s in no mood to be stopped and scores under the posts and Ben knocks over the extras.
It puts us 14-0 up but both scores are from breaks rather than sustained pressure. And Holt could easily have scored from their visits to our red zone so this game is far from under control. The Spartans’ defence has been strong, their line speed aggressive and the tackles sound, but Holt carry well and clearly love a counter-ruck.
The rain is causing plenty of problems - we briefly flirt with getting the ball out to the wings but fall back into bad habits of constant hard carries into heavy traffic. In the end it’s kicking that gets us down to the right end. We cross but it’s “no try” so go again and Cheu Hung crashes over with Ben again adding the conversion. That puts us 21-0 up at the break and in the huddle the talk is about no complacency - that was the lead we lost against Cambridge.
And, true to form, it’s Holt who have all the running after the restart. Holding on costs us a penalty, we stuff up a lineout and Holt skip through for their first points. They miss the conversion but add a penalty a few minutes later. It’s poor from the Spartans and we’re not getting the basics right - but we can still attack. Matt E fields a high kick and off loads to Joel who cuts through some weak tackles to score. And we add another straight away when Isaac hacks through a loose ball, nearly scores himself but has to settle for James scooping up the slippery fish and landing it safely of Holt’s beach.
That’s the win pretty much secured but Holt keep coming at us. Billy and James put in big hits to stop their breaks but the hosts have the momentum while we make more silly mistakes. They reach our 22 thanks to more penalties, maul it from the lineout and we’ve left too big a hole to keep them out. We do return the favour, using a penalty to put Billy over from short range for the last score of the game, but it’s not been pretty and not been the performance we wanted.
In part the credit is Holt’s - they’ve played direct rugby and exploited our mistakes. Their defence has had holes and they’ve paid the price, but the score line doesn’t fit a game where they’ve enjoyed far too much territory and possession. We’ve defended well and our line speed caused them problems, especially in the first half, but we’ve not yet managed to rediscover that simple and skilful running game that we’ll need in the finals that lie ahead.
Men of the Match: It was a day for the forwards and they put in some big shifts, but we badly missed captain Callum last week and his leadership, courage and fitness gets him the man of the match for the pack. A tip of the hat goes to both Matt W and James for their defence, but Joel’s skill under the high ball and constant attacking threat at full back gets him the nod for the backs.