Epic final ends with honours even
By Andrew Thomson
Norfolk Cup Final
Holt RFC, 7th May 2017
Squad: Aiden Davies, Alex Creasy, Ben Harvey, Billy Evans (captain), Callum Sparkes, Cameron Verney, Charlie Creasy, Cheu Hung Lo, Conrad Harrison, Dean Palin, Elliot Moore, Giles Starling, Harry Thomson, Harry Trenerry, Isaac Birch, Jack Burrill, Jack Hatto, Jake Garside, Joel Holderness, Josh Smith, Matt Pitcher, Seth Ahier.
Coaches: Neil Davies, Tony Garside, Jon Hood, Andy Verney, Jim Starling, Andy Thomson.
Wymondham Spartans 7 – 7 North Walsham
Not much riding on this then; just the last game of the season, the county cup final and who gets the bragging rights for the entire summer. It starts early on Instagram and Snapchat (they’re social media outlets, Jon) and rivalry with Walsham runs deliciously deep, despite the fact that they are actually a rather fine bunch. They certainly have the upper hand going into this little tussle having won our last four meetings, rather convincingly too. But we’ve beaten teams who’ve beaten them so our theory is there’s a match to be won here if the Spartans are up for the challenge.
With no expense spared, Norfolk RFU’s marketing team have come up with the concept of “The Big Norfolk Rugby Weekend” and we’re half way down the card for the second day. It means a late kick off of 1245 so we control the warm up and concentrate on the drills worked on over the past three weeks, keep the lads topped up with drink and snacks, and then it’s team talk and finally tackle-bag rucking to bring out the Spartan warrior within. And it works – across the squad it’s clear the lads are switched on and focused on the job.
Wymondham start and Cheu Hung immediately wins a turn over. It’s encouraging because Walsham’s wins have been based on choking off the supply of ball and using their forwards to batter us backwards. If we can meet them on the gain line then anything is possible. Walsham gift us a penalty and we spin the ball across the pitch from the resulting throw-in but they are quick to defend and Isaac is snagged before he can pull clear.
The midfield battle is fearsome – both sides boast a sharp step and a powerful tackle. The hits go in and though we win the lion’s share of territory, Walsham always threaten to break. When they do Billy is there to clatter their winger into touch but it’s desperately tight. Everyone gets a breather as one of Walsham’s lads is injured but the restart sees Walsham use a penalty to reach our 22 for the first time. They chip and Joel sprints back to cover, dotting the ball down for a dropout.
Jake and Billy kick for the corners and it puts the pressure back on Walsham. They fumble one kick to give us a scrum in their 22 but again they’re too good to allow us a clear route to the tryline. We win penalties but their line speed blocks our moves and we’re left parrying blows that make yards but don’t open doors. We look wider afield for openings, Elliot collecting a kick on one wing which reaches Isaac on the other, but again Walsham are quick to interfere with our plans. Wymondham’s forwards led by Callum and Conrad are putting in an unbelievable shift and it gives us large chunks of possession. The half ends with Wymondham trying to magic openings and when a wild pass finds Joel it looks as though we may be through, but again Walsham stub out the threat.
We’ve had the best of the opening 25 minutes though and the message at half time is to build on the pressure we’re generating and use a kicking game to put us in the right half of the field for when they breaks do come. And it starts to work. Jake jinks and makes yards forcing Walsham back on their 22. They stop us at first before Ben spins it wide and Jake again exploits a dogleg but the pass releasing Isaac to score is fractionally forward and back we come. Walsham attack wide from the scrum but Wymondham’s tackles do the job and when we counter they’ve left too much space on the left, Jake delays his pass to draw their last man and finally Isaac is free to score. It’s near the touchline but Jake thumps it over from long range to put us 7 points up.
At the start of the game captain Bill said if we get our noses ahead then we shouldn’t defend but carry on attacking. And it’s what the Spartans set out to do. Conrad has been hitting Vikings all afternoon and leads the Wymondham line by clattering their next ball carrier. A clever kick and lucky bounce almost sets Walsham free but Alex jackals to save us. Walsham though are going back to their old game of attacking the fringe of the breakdown and their forwards are building momentum. They’ve got big lads and though we stop them, they win yards and are skilled at keeping the ball out of reach. With ten minutes of the game left we’re defending our tryline and we can’t keep them out – they get the try and the conversion to make it even-stevens.
Wymondham still search for the gap to set our pacemen free but it’s impossible to find. We give away penalties which push Walsham back into our red zone and again we’re left defending like grim death. We halt them, halt them again when they go wide but now they have a 5m penalty. So often it would have sealed the game but Conrad again puts in a colossal hit to stop their crash ball carrier in his tracks and we survive by the skin of our teeth. A minute later it’s over; a draw and by the rules of the competition Walsham and Wymondham share the trophy and the title.
It’s a fair result for two ambitious and talented teams who have given their all, but it’s a frustrating one too for players on both sides, which is no bad sign. In truth though it’s Wymondham’s best performance against Walsham in two years and to keep them out at the end was a sign of how far we’ve come. Not every Spartan has had a chance to play, and others have come on as finishers, but this result is built on the efforts and skills of everyone in the squad – and on the incredible support of parents. There is plenty to work on next season and plenty of ambitions to aim at, but in terms of courage and determination, this match saw the Spartans smash it!
No Man of the Match awards as frankly there were too many contenders and separating them would have taken until September. See you then!