Holt 22 Norwich 14
Saturday’s league fixture between Norwich and Holt was the first league encounter between the two clubs at Bridge Road, and the large partisan crowd were treated to some excellent rugby by both teams. Holt, unbeaten in the league this season and coached by former Norwich player Ed Steed, were looking to do the double over their local rivals and started strongly, capitalising on some indecision in the Norwich ranks.
The game could hardly have started worse for Norwich, losing influential lock Tom Lloyd with ankle ligament damage in the first minute. The subsequent re-organisation seems to unnerve Norwich, who struggled to attain anything like the consistency of play their supporters have witnessed in recent weeks. Holt were out of the blocks quickly, putting pressure upon Norwich at every opportunity and preventing them from establishing a rhythm. The only glimmers of hope for Norwich supporters seemed to be the powerful midfield running of centre Ewan Wilson, combined with intelligent forward play from the Norwich back row.
Holt’s backline looked dangerous from the opening whistle. But Holt’s first try came from a clever back row move after 12 minutes, moving the ball quickly through several pairs of hands before sending the ball to the Holt left winger who scampered over in the corner. The try was not converted.
Norwich’s response was positive, but too many times promising moves were halted by relatively basic and sometimes unforced errors. Fly half and captain Jonny Wheater looked dangerous ball in hand, but on too many occasions the Norwich ball carrier found himself isolated. Holt’s second try came after 18 minutes when a rolling maul took play into the Norwich 22. The Holt scrum half went on a sniping run down the blind side before moving the ball to the right winger to evade two tacklers and crash over.
At times, Norwich were their own worst enemies unable to take advantage of an extra man, missing touch kicks and being turned over in the tackle. Holt began to have greater control of the game and it came as no surprise when they scored their third try after 31 minutes when the Holt right winger scorched down the touchline to record his second try of the afternoon. Norwich’s misery was compounded by a fourth try on the stroke of half time, when they failed to deal with a testing cross field kick from Holt fly half Ian Youngs.
The half time score was 22-0 to Holt, the bonus point secured and Norwich firmly second best. It must have been a rousing half time talk by the Norwich coaching staff as Norwich came out in a far more combative spirit for the second period. They showed good handling skills and some dynamic play to brighten the December gloom that had descended upon North Norfolk. There was far greater structure to Norwich’s play, helped in part by the red card shown to Holt’s second row. Norwich began to make the extra man advantage pay, adapting their tactics well to the worsening conditions. After 60 minutes, Holt made a mess of an intelligent box kick by scrum half Josh Ives, allowing flanker Matt Cartwright to show good footballing skills to score under the posts and narrow the deficit.
This seemed to spur Norwich on and they enjoyed their brightest spell of the game. Ewan Wilson added welcome penetration to Norwich’s midfield attack and Dave Micklethwaite became increasingly influential around the base of the ruck. Shortly afterwards, an outstanding piece of individual skill saw lock forward Gareth Leake burst through the Holt defence, carrying three or four tacklers with him to crash over under the posts. The try was converted by Jonny O’Brien and Norwich appeared galvanised.
However, this was to be the last score of the game as Holt ran out winners 22-14. Norwich can have no complaints about the score, but will rue the lack of dynamism and self belief, which allowed Holt to build an unassailable lead in the first half. They showed commendable character to rally hard in the second period, but on too many occasions, desire and basic contact skills were found lacking.