Spartans find form as finals approach
By Andrew Thomson
Wymondham RFC, 31st March 2019
Squad: Aiden Davies, Alfie Funnell, Ben Harvey, Billy Evans, Callum Sparkes (captain), Cheu Hung Lo, Conrad Harrison, Danny Perry, Giles Starling, Harry Thomson, Harry Trenerry, Isaac Birch, Jack Burrell, James Ketteridge, Justin Burr, Luke Clarke, Luke Hayhurst, Matt Elsby, Matt Wernham, Seth Ahier, Oli Reek.
Coaches: Neil Davies, Jon Hood, Andy Thomson.
Wymondham Spartans 50 - 24 Saffron Walden
Four weeks since our last fixture, three weeks of hard training since - this game will test our preparation for the finals in just a month’s time. The Spartans have lost some of their fizz and a lot of their form of late so both coaches and players have been working hard in training on structure and work rate. Saffron Walden are one of the teams we’ll meet in those finals - they’re short of a few players today but they’re a fine outfit and a stern test.
We start with the bracing March wind at our backs and butter fingers at the end of our arms. Passes don’t go to hand and the forwards get early practice against a very decent Essex pack, but a hoof from Bill and nifty break from AJ at least keep us deep in their half. We’ve got good line speed and pile on the pressure when we don’t have the ball - new man Danny gets it back for us with a fine turn over and throws a long pass which puts Isaac in at the corner.
A couple of minutes later Mr Birch has done it again - strong carries from Bill and Callum get us back in their 22 and the long pass again feeds Isaac who steps inside to score. Walden momentarily threaten from the restart but a knock on gives us back control and Harry Thomo at 10 times his pass to give Isaac a clear view of the tryline 70m ahead. Isaac’s up for the challenge, hands-off their full back and nails his hattrick under the posts for Ben to convert.
It’s a great start with the Spartans fighting for possession and knowing what to do when they have it. Walden haven’t had much chance to show their attacking ambitions and again, just as they’re building phases, a spill gives us the advantage and James at 15 runs it hard back at them. Conrad protects, Ben feeds, Harry loops, Bill off loads and Oli slices through on a great line that puts him clear to score.
That makes it 24-0 which is far too good to last against the likes of Walden. Their handling’s getting sharper and they test our tackling and win penalties when we don’t roll away. We survive their first foray into our 22 with Bill kicking clear and our line speed chokes their channels, but they keep hold, get pace on the ball and finally score when a dog leg opens up in our line.
Captain Callum isn’t having that, rips the ball back at the restart and even when we knock-on our pack win possession back against the head. Bill uses it to gatecrash their 22 and when he’s eventually brought down Conrad is on hand to scoop, swerve and score with Ben again adding the extras just as half time arrives.
Walden don’t take long to get their act together and only a fine cover tackle from James stops them notching up early points in the second half. We defend hard and yet again the forwards have their work cut out and don’t cede an inch in the physical tussle. It forces Walden to kick and with the wind now in their favour they get good distance. Both teams are looking to move the ball and our back three of James, Matt and Matt have their work cut out extinguishing the threat.
Jack does some splendid daylight robbery to get possession back and win us a penalty but even that doesn’t get us out of danger. Too impatient, we run the ball once too often, get turned over and offer up a three on one chance on the wing which Walden put away gratefully.
Again Callum leads the fight back, seizing the high ball at the restart which Jack crashes up and Haz follows up. Walden are caught offside, we go quickly and Bill puts on the burners, feeding Isaac at the last moment for his fourth. Ben duly slots the conversion.
Walden again kick long and James has to scamper back to safely dot the ball down. It doesn’t keep us out of trouble for long though - Walden build pressure and we come off the boil, too comfortable with the scoreline. The visitors set to making that much more bracing, scoring first from a counter when we’re too slow getting back into position, and secondly when we fluff the restart.
We’re still 38-22 up but leads are ephemeral things when you take your foot of the gas and the Spartan riot act is promptly read and taken to heart. Harry Thomo intercepts, doesn’t quite have the pace to finish it but hangs on for support and Billy is unstoppable. Isaac nearly gets his fifth when he chases up a chip through and with Wymondham firmly back on the attack it’s Conrad who gets the final score breaking from the back of a scrum to clock up the last of a 50-point haul for the Spartans.
It’s been a much-improved performance from Wymondham. We’ve played with more structure, attacked with speed and creativity and defended hard against strong ball carriers. The result’s all the better for several players in unfamiliar positions - both Alfie and James had very fine first games at (respectively) hooker and full back, as did Danny slotting in at 13 for his first Spartan cap.
A commanding first half showed what we’re capable of and the second contained another stark health warning on the dangers of complacency. We saw the game out though and it puts us in good stead. With both us and Walden getting missing players back for the Eastern Counties finals, it sets up a great encounter. Our thanks to them for the early start and long trek up to Norfolk. We’ll meet again!
Men of the Match: A lot of eye-catching performances today led by captain Callum but the forwards MotM is Conrad for his huge work rate and constant threat. And in the backs Harry Thomo’s tackling and handling combo just edges out four-try Isaac and quick ball Ben.