Hammersmith and Fulham 28, North Walsham 40
North Walsham set the stage for a New Year recovery on Saturday as they recorded an excellent victory at their fellow strugglers to move out of the London 1N relegation zone.
A strong wind blew straight down the pitch and the spectators' expectation was for a cautious, unambitious style of play. Not a bit of it.
Both teams used the wind when it was in their favour, but also decided to play open attacking rugby. However the cold and the wind put a premium on good handling and accurate passing and plenty of phases of play ended with knock-ons and passes not going to hand.
The Hammers had the benefit of the wind in the first half and it was 10 minutes before Chris Borrett put Vikings into the opposition 22. A turnover gave Hammers the ball and fly-half Toby Hares immediately put Vikings back on the defensive.
On 15 minutes Hammers scrum-half Ali Line broke from a set scrum near halfway and excellent support created a double overlap for the first try wide out. Immediately Vikings scrum-half Shane van Vuuren broke from the base of a ruck, shrugged off three tacklers and offloaded to Borrett who ran 20 metres to score between the posts and convert to make it 7-5.
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A penalty to Hammers, converted by Line, whose place kicking was very good throughout, restored the home side's lead.
Winger Chad Seeley, who had been struggling with a leg injury, then gave way for debutant Ollie Hardisty, who took over at his specialist position of scrum-half, with van Vuuren moving to the wing. Five minutes before half-time Hammers failed to deal with a relieving kick from Vikings and some fast offloading gave Chris Kent the chance to get close to try line and offload for Nick Austin to score wide out. Vikings were now leading 12-8 but any hopes of entering the second half with a lead evaporated in five minutes with two Hammers penalties and a 50 metre run-in for centre John Sergeant following an interception to make it 21-12 at the break.
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Immediately after restart Vikings grabbed the initiative with a short range try from Stuart Loose and conversion from Borrett, whose task now changed to attacking kicking to gain territory with the now diminishing wind. Coach Nick Greenhall switched van Vuuren to full back and Adam Dye went to the wing. In this more familiar position Dye neatly gathered a bouncing ball under pressure from three attackers and offloaded to Borrett whose kick again put Vikings deep into opposition territory. Andy Tibbatts, whose control and decision making were a major feature, restored the lead and secured the bonus point.
Hardisty was now linking well with his No 8 and fly-half and showed skill and determination in all his play. The score went to 21-33 with a penalty try as the Vikings pack gained the ascendancy, although they were not dominating the territory as Hammers had done in first half.
With 10 minutes remaining Hammers looked to be back in the game with a converted try from a rolling maul, but substitutes Gerald Hegarty and Keith Fowles helped the pack resist a late surge and the visitors finished on a high with another converted try from Kent.
Although there were many mistakes, due to the weather and the lay-off, this was an excellent win as the relegation battle began to take shape.
North Walsham Raiders completed an excellent weekend for the club when they recorded an emphatic 64-5 at Crusaders II.
They dominated throughout, scoring nine tries, with three for Harry Downing and one each for Laurence Austin, Toby Salmon, Jack Edwards, Dom Roberts, Dan Goodrich and Laurie Carlyle. Alex Lampert added eight conversions and a penalty.