Another tough game looms for Walsham RFC
RUGBY: When the fixtures were made back in the summer of 2010, no- one could have predicted that on successive weeks North Walsham would face three of the runaway four teams at the top of the table.
Well that's just how it has panned out and having suffered a 32-0 defeat at the hands of second-placed Hertford last week the Vikings face an even more daunting prospect with a trip to face leaders Dorking on Saturday.
The Surrey side have only lost one game this term (at Ampthill 13-57) and are the only team to have beaten Hertford.
In the home game back in early October the Vikings gave a good account of themselves before going down 24-36.
Many feel that they are a stronger outfit than back then and if they are at full strength could run them close.
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Coach Nick Greenhall will have viewed the video of last week's game and will almost certainly be working on the defensive line to eliminate the soft scores which boosted Hertford's tally.
On the availability front Mark McCall, who spent the whole of last week's game on the bench will now be fully fit and able to resume hooking duties from Mike Henry.
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The remainder of the pack should be much the same although Greenhall could rotate Will Crossley and James Elliott with Crossley dropping top the bench.
Certain to change is the half back partnership with the return of Lee Sandberg from international duty with the Swedish side and Jack Hoyles from illness.
This pairing growing in confidence as they gain familiarity is key to the structure of the side and their return should also have a stabilizing effect.
Subject to the availability of Ewan Wilson on the wing it would be a surprise if there are any further changes.
The Raiders, who like the seniors suffered defeat (at the hands of table-toppers Hertford Extra first team), are scheduled to travel to play their Dorking counterparts while the Warriors should be hosting Diss III in a Merit Table game at Scottow.
North Walsham 0, Hertford 32
As has often been the case, Lady Luck has not been Walsham's friend this season.
On the night before the game against second-placed Hertford, the regular half-backs were both lost to illness and there was a late call to international duty for Lee Sandberg.
Winning the toss, Walsham elected to play into the wind that blew at a considerable tempo throughout the game into the clubhouse corner. The kick off saw Walsham gather the ball cleanly and drive down the field into the wind.
Good close support saw the ball taken on a number of times up to the half-way line for the ball to move to the backs for the first time.
Hertford were up fast and conceded a knock-on in the tackle for the first scrum of the game, nicely positioned in the centre of the pitch and well into Hertford territory.
Unfortunately the Walsham pack was to eager to engage and penalised for driving in early. A well-judged, wind-assisted kick, was returned to the Walsham 22m line, only to see Leon Davies steal the throw-in and the forwards pick and drive out of danger.
Reliance on this approach runs the risk of eventually losing control and a knock-on gave a put-in to Hertford who were quick to move the ball to their backs, who in the earlier game had been outstanding.
A well-worked move seemed to be well marshalled by the North Walsham defence until a slip on the greasy service opened up a hole for James Storey to sear through.
Almost at the line he was brought down by a wonderful covering tackle from Barry Frost but the support was on hand for the Hertford forwards to gather and drive over from a couple of metres out, Chris Rainbow touching down and the conversion being missed.
With only seven minutes gone and the wind at their backs it did not augur well for the remainder of the half. However despite the rest of the half being played mainly in the Walsham third excellent defence and a dogged performance from the forwards restricted Hertford to a couple of chances that were spurned primarily by the intensity of the Walsham effort.
Although competing in all areas, Walsham were being totally disrupted in the scrummage, an aspect of the game that had been solid all season.
As a result of this it was very difficult for either of the half-backs to get in a relieving kick or initiate a move on the front foot.
On the stroke of half-time Walsham were penalised for holding on and a quick tap and go by Matt Hankin the Stortford scrum-half gained the inevitable extra ten metres and a kickable chance which Jack Mann put over to make it 8-0 to Hertford at half-time.
As the players trooped off, there was a degree of optimism that points of some kind could be had but two nagging doubts. The first was whether Walsham would be able to address the srummaging problems and had the half taken a physical toll that Hertford may be able to exploit as the game wore on as they have scored in each of their games this season more points in the last quarter than in the previous 60 minutes?
From the restart Hertford adopted the Walsham approach and drove the ball up through their forwards. With quality ball coming back to their half back Hertford were able to make prudent use of the boot and worked their way into the Walsham half and after six minutes had a scrummage close to Walsham's line.
Somewhat surprisingly they were awarded a penalty try at the first put-in, but on the balance of the scrums to date you had to agree that the referee had made the right decision. It was duly converted and the score now stood at 15-0. The next quarter of an hour saw the game moving between the Walsham 22 and the Hertford 10m line purely and simply because Walsham were unable to secure clean ball and utilise the wind to secure a good field position.
As the game entered the final quarter, true to form Hertford delivered. Their superior fitness and physical strength came through and as gaps started to appear around the fringes they were able drive play forward and off-load to the supporting player.
From a quickly-taken penalty the ball was moved through of number of hands for Crompton to score in the corner but was unconverted.
Gerard Hegarty, who had an enormous game, was yellow carded for handling on the floor and seemingly in appreciation of his contribution it galvanised the team and the ball was taken to Hertford at every opportunity and in whatever form.
A couple of stirring runs by Aidie Ball had the crowd on its toes and it was clear nobody was going to give up.
Unfortunately Walsham were unable to score any points and Hertford took two more tries, with one being converted, to finish the game at 32-0.
Despite losing this was a solid performance - and had the scrummage functioned half as well as it normally does, points would have been had.
It's not over yet at Scottow.