Norwich move back to third in London 3NE with a win at South Woodham Ferrers but they will need to play for a full 80 minutes to secure vital bonus points on offer to close the gap on the leaders. Norwich had to defend fiercely against a determined South Woodham side that could sense a victory was possible late in the game. They achieved this with only 14 men on the pitch for the last 15 minutes, having used up all their replacements, when 17 year old Aaron Nicholson was cynically taken out off the ball sustaining a head injury in the process.
It was clear very early on that South Woodham’s scrum was going to be a handful and so it proved to be for most of the game. Norwich started brightly enough with the diagonal wind in their favour and from a solid lineout on the 22, Si Darby crashed through several tackles to score near to the posts which Jonny O’Brien converted. SWF struck back soon afterwards from a penalty kick on the 22 scored by Rob Brown.
Norwich were quickly back on the offensive pushing play deep into SWF territory and kicking a penalty into the corner. From the lineout the ball came out quickly from Sawford to Wheater, who glided through the defence to score under the posts that O’Brien converted.
If Norwich thought this game was in the bag they were soon to find otherwise, when the home side upped their game forcing Norwich to concede penalties in keeping them out. From one such penalty within the 22 the hosts took a quick tap penalty and the ball ended up with number 14, Warren Duggan, who was undoubtedly their player of the day, touching down in the corner converted by Brown to bring the score to within 4 points.
Despite being under pressure in the scrums, Norwich still looked reasonably comfortable and had a chance to stretch their lead with a penalty that O’Brien missed in the strong cross wind leaving the half time score at 10:14.
Norwich started the second half strongly with some excellent pressure and from a tap penalty near the 22, the ball went wide to the right where David Smillie finished well, cutting back inside to score with O’Brien’s conversion just creeping over the bar. Norwich were then reduced to 14 men when Gareth Leake was the unlucky recipient of the team yellow card after numerous infringements by the visitors. This coincided with SWF gaining in confidence and putting Norwich under pressure with some strong runs, but with Dunbar down receiving attention and play continuing, the 13 men did very well to hold them at bay.
Norwich were guilty of some basic errors, but they were being out muscled at the breakdown which put them on the back foot and some poor tackling allowed Duggan to barge his way through to score his second try, which Brown duly converted.
A very nervous final 15 minutes passed with some fierce Norwich defending as South Woodham Ferrers pounded away at the line, but to their credit the 14 men managed to hold them at bay to secure victory. Norwich needed to play to their strengths for the full 80 minutes, but they had somewhat eased off after 50 or 60 minutes and made what should have been a reasonably comfortable victory into a close run thing. The two injury returnees did well, Chris Sawford was a guiding influence at 9 and Paul Micklethwaite won a lot of loose ball at the breakdown. The coaches picked out Craig Dunbar as man of the match with his barging runs. Norwich had a lot of positives to take out of the day but still some lessons to learn about ruthlessly closing games out.
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