Missed opportunity in basement battle

NORTH WALSHAM 22, BASINGSTOKE 25: North Walsham Vikings were desperately disappointed to lose at home to their fellow relegation battlers Basingstoke after they had looked set to record a much-needed win.

Seven minutes into the second half, when they went 11 points clear, a home win looked a safe bet. But thereafter an error strewn display let a tenacious Basingstoke side claw their way back.

Most of the early play was in the visitors' half but Walsham's propensity to give away penalties – which continued throughout – cost them some promising positions.

Against the run of play Basingstoke opened the scoring in the tenth minute with a try by Ashley Paterson, for which the Vikings only had themselves to blame. They had done the hard bit, winning turnover ball after a drive close to the line, but the relieving kick did not find touch and the winger was allowed to weave his way through a mass of defenders from the halfway line.

Four minutes later Walsham went ahead. They won clean ball at a line-out, Shaun Woodhouse went on a rampaging run and Mark McCall emerged from a maul to race over from 20 metres, Barry Frost converting.

Walsham soon extended their lead when a 25-metre run by Woodhouse took play close to the line, quick second phase ball was won and Jack Hoyles drew the defence to give Warren Abrahams space to score. Frost converted from the touchline.

The Vikings were looking good. They had the edge in the scrums, their tackling on the fringes was near faultless, Woodhouse in particular was making lots of ground and Hoyles was looking comfortable in his new position of fly-half.

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Gradually, though, fortunes began to change. An Andrew Humberstone penalty made it 14-8 after 25 minutes and, with the Vikings giving away possession too easily, Basingstoke looked the likelier to score. On the stroke of half-time, Humberstone missed an easy penalty.

Walsham dominated the early stages of the second half and went further ahead after a wonderfully worked move. Abrahams popped up at pace between the centres and ran 30 metres before off loading to Frost who scored.

At 19-8 ahead there were even fleeting thoughts of a 'bonus point win.' But they were quickly jolted as Basingstoke hit back with two tries in five minutes. On both occasions poor defending was a factor as Paterson and then Simon Appelby scored; Humberstone converted one and, with just over a quarter of the game left, the Vikings were 22-19 down before a Frost penalty levelled the scores.

With both sides aware of how important the result could turn out to be, play became quite frenzied with neither able to put together concerted attacks. Walsham put on substitutes James Elliott and Gerald Hegarty to give some fresh legs to the back row and began to kick more from half back.

Play, however, was soon mainly in the Vikings' half again, with the home side continuing to make basic errors.

Humberstone missed a straightforward penalty but, with five minutes left, made no mistake from near the touchline.

Vikings poured forward. Twice in injury time they spurned kickable penalties and went instead for the kick to the corner. The outcomes somehow summarised the previous 30 minutes: at the first line-out they lost the ball, at the second the drive was quickly repelled.

It was hard to take positives from this game. The Vikings did control things for much of the first 50 minutes and produced three nice tries.

There is, though, much to do on defensive organisation, and they must reduce the penalty count and protect possession better.

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