Roundup: North Walsham’s long run is over, but Norwich enjoy a big win
- Credit: Archant
North Walsham's 15-match unbeaten run ended in dramatic fashion as hosts Harpenden grabbed a 31-29 victory with two converted tries in the last five minutes.
Ahead since the fifth minute and 15-3 up at half-time, the London One North leaders looked to have extinguished their hosts' comeback when their fifth try gave them a 29-17 lead with 15 minutes left, but for once their defensive prowess deserted them.
A long-range penalty by Thomas Sweeney, whose place kicking was impeccable, gave Harpenden an early lead. Soon afterwards Dan Smith gathered a kick on his 10m line and sliced through the defence to score out wide. Five minutes later it became 10-3: after rejecting two kickable penalties Ethan Sikorski was forced over from a five-metre lineout. Jake Duffield, kicking in the absence of Matt Hodgson, hit a post from the touchline.
For the next 20 minutes the Vikings were in control, seemingly enjoying playing on the artificial surface. With Callum Anthony varying play from fly-half and Harpenden struggling to cope with the Vikings backs' pace and running lines, more tries seemed likely, but a mix of poor passing and stout defence prevented that.
On the half hour, though, Jim Riley raced over from 40m after Smith had broken through in a move that started from deep. Harpenden then applied some consistent pressure but the Vikings' line speed and defensive organisation forced errors and half-time arrived with the travelling supporters feeling the 12-point lead did not fully reflect their side's superiority.
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Harpenden looked a different side after the break as their forwards slowly began to get the upper hand. As ever the Vikings soaked up the pressure waiting for their opponents to tire and become impatient, looking for the chance to break out. Harpenden, though, were playing to a different script and got their reward 12 minutes into the half, Peter Sims scoring from a driving maul; Sweeney converted. Two minutes later the Vikings' 12-point lead was restored when Will Swart went over after Riley had gathered a difficult ball on halfway and shrugged off four tacklers before being overhauled five metres out. Duffield converted.
Back came Harpenden and, with the penalty count mounting, Sikorski was sin binned. Midway through the half Adam Wheatley got another converted forwards' try to narrow the gap. Still a man down and under pressure, the Vikings then saw the chance to attack from close to their line. Smith broke through and after a recycle and two passes Joe Milligan scored. With Duffield receiving treatment Anthony converted to make it 29 -17.
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Many sides would have buckled but Harpenden now began to move the ball about at pace from deep and with five minutes left Adam Wilkinson raced over for a converted try. Three minutes later fellow winger Max Baggio scored from long range and Sweeney converted from the touchline to give them a famous victory.
"We pride ourselves on our defence and conceding four tries in the second half was clearly not good, but we got two points from a difficult fixture," said coach Johnny Marsters, whose side still lead the table by six.
Leaders Norwich beat Wanstead 39-10 after a flying start, gathering their own kick off and being awarded a penalty at the first ruck. They kicked to the corner and a simple catch and drive saw Matt Selby score the opening points, after just two minutes. The conversion was missed.
Scoring so quickly, was probably not entirely helpful, as Norwich then seemed intent to score off every phase, rushing moves against their normal, patient pattern.
Wanstead fought back and applied a lot of pressure, but conceded a penalty in front of the posts that Theo Elliott converted. Wanstead scored a very good try, on 35 minutes, through winger Chad Harris, before Norwich finally settled into a rhythm just before half-time, Rob Micklethwaite scoring in the corner for 13-5 lead at the break.
In the second half, Norwich showed much greater control as they gradually settled to their task. Centre Rudyard Herbert-Okey went over, Elliott converting and with 20 minutes left, Dave Micklethwaite strolled through under the posts.
Wanstead pulled one back, but Norwich scored again with Adam Huggins going over in the corner. They capped it off with a beautiful run down the right wing by Huggins with Elliott in support, taking the inside pass to score beneath the posts, converting his own try.
Holt got their second win of the season, beating visiting Saffron Walden 41-24, while Diss went down 34-17 at Stowmarket and Wymondham beat visiting Epping Upper Clapton 41-0.