A MATCH TO REMEMBER
By Adam Faherty
Report by Graham Pratt
What a match, what an atmosphere, what an afternoon. This was what makes rugby such a special game when two quality sides fight it out to the bitter end in front of a good natured and impressively large crowd of supporters from both sides. Plenty of atmosphere to help build up the tension and a game that was full of it right until the final whistle.
Rochford had said before that North Walsham were the toughest side, they had played this season and this match proved the case as Rochford were taken to the wire and they had to draw on their vast experience and character to prevail.
It was apparent from the start that the Norfolk outfit are a well drilled, physical and intelligent side as they came out all guns blazing and rocked their high-flying opponents back on their heels.
Rochford were unable to match their pace and physicality early on and looked a little out of salts during the first quarter. Walsham were rewarded a penalty kick which their no.10 neatly slotted over to open the scoring and then they struck again after a breakdown in the Rochford backs allowed the North Walsham elusive winger to speed through to ground behind the posts and
Converted to put the home side 10 points clear.
Although still not playing at their best Rochford have a powerful set of forwards who dominated the set scrum all afternoon and they are very efficient at driving mauls and use this to great effect.
Rochford forced play up to the Walsham try line and using their strong driving technic drove them back and no.8 James Kellard making a return from injury, dived over to score.
The home team struck back stretching the Rochford defence and pressure told as they gave away a penalty and the North Walsham stand off kicked it over to take the score line to 13 – 5.
Rochford needed to respond quickly, and they did just that when full back Chris Dudman found space and ran in for a well taken try to bring the deficit to 10-13 as the half time whistle blew.
Considering the way the first session had gone, with the hosts having more ball and territory and looking so strong Rochford were happy to turn round still well in the hunt.
With the wind behind them the visitors felt that the tide might have turned in their favour, but Walsham had other ideas and struck again with a good try and conversion to take them ahead 20- 10 and they now had the momentum to go for the jugular and their supporters were sensing something special as the noise level increased accordingly.
The Essex outfit have not gone for nearly two seasons without losing a game for no reason and this was now the time to show why they are in that position.
They regrouped, looked into their box of tricks and brought out grit, experience, and above all character and went about turning this nerve wrenching game around.
Up stepped centre Sonny Gay to finish of some good approach work and for Dudman to add the extra two points to bring the score to 17 – 20.
Then followed some intensive, powerful forward play by Rochford on the Walsham line as they went through the phases, but good defence kept them at bay.
Eventually Rochford’s strength prevailed as captain Harry Hudson crashed over to score the fourth and bonus point try before Dudman again added the extra.
Into the final heart stopping minutes with a 24 -20 lead Rochford looked for the killer blow but Walsham forced play back and were given a penalty which was taken to take it to 24 -23 with full time up and five extra minutes to play.
This was not for the faint hearted as both sides threw everything into the game .In the end It was the experience and power of the Rochford forwards that saw them through as they gained possession and kept the ball tucked up and went through a few phases until the ball was passed back to stand off Cameron Greenhall to duly ,and thankfully ,boot it into touch and for the referee to blow the final whistle.
As an ex North Walsham boy who started his rugby at the club Greenhall it must have been a special moment.
A number of things the squad need to look at including tiding up the lineout and becoming more physical in their approach work as well as more balance in the backs.
The big positive from this absorbing confrontation was that the side needed to be really tested under extreme pressure and this afternoon they were and were not found wanting.
Great credit to North Walsham for putting on such a fine display and producing a game to remember in times to come.
Next Saturday a home match against struggling Luton which, on paper, should be a little less stressful affair but nothing can be taken for granted as the team enter the final straight with five league matches to play and possible stumbling blocks along the way.