Norwich went into this crucial league fixture knowing only their best would be enough against a Newmarket side notoriously hard to beat at home. Norwich lying third in the league also knew picking up points at this stage of the season was vital if they were to maintain a promotion charge this season.
With conditions ideal for rugby, Norwich kicked off and immediately put their hosts under pressure, restricting them territorially for the first five minutes. The only relief for Newmarket was provided by the huge boot of their fly half. However, as the hosts began to adjust to Norwich’s style of rugby, they began to come back into the game. From a Norwich perspective, there was an ominous sign early on, as Newmarket demonstrated their forward power with a thirty metre rolling maul, creating the space for their inside centre to cross the line for his first try of the afternoon.
Norwich responded to this setback positively and came back into the game with some incisive running and good handling, with backs and forwards combining in some scintillating rugby. After winning a penalty after forcing Newmarket to transgress, Norwich bravely chose to kick for the corner rather than taking the three points on offer. This call was well rewarded when following a good catch and drive sucked in the Newmarket defence, thus allowing live-wire Josh Ives to spin the ball wide for Scott Hancocks to crash over wide out.
Norwich then allowed Newmarket to get back into the game with some sustained pressure. Newmarket’s tactics were clear, using their large forward pack to play a tight style of rugby, strangling their opponents into submission. After two or three powerful surges, Norwich were forced to concede a penalty close to their line which the Newmarket fly half was unable to convert.
This let off seemed to spur Norwich into action as they entered their best period of the game. The Norwich scrum was disrupting their larger opponents with Tom Whiskin giving his opposite number a torrid time. In the line out, Gareth Leake and Paul Micklethwaite were prominent as Norwich built some excellent phases together, culminating in a what was probably the try of this season for Jay O Brien. Norwich looked confident and full of running. They were varying their tactics well and disrupting their opposition’s possession, with the counter rucking of Jon Snowling extremely effective.
However, uncharacteristic lapses in defence were to cost Norwich dear as they once again allowed the burly Newmarket fly half too much space as he created room for the inside centre to score a carbon copy of his first try. For the rest of the half, Norwich found themselves on the back foot, living off scraps of possession but unable to impose their expansive style of play upon the game. Norwich looked dangerous in broken play but their first up defence let them down too often as Newmarket went into the half time break ahead 17-12.
The second period started positively with Doug Greenwood leading by example and Simon Atkinson prominent around the fringes. However, poor defence around the fringes of the ruck early in second half allowed their centre to break away. Desperate tackling from Norwich ensured he was hauled down just short of the line, but the Newmarket forwards retained the ball and crashed over from the ensuing ruck to extend the Newmarket lead.
Norwich’s team spirit and character started to show through as they battled back into the game. Jonny Wheater’s astute tactical kicking gave Norwich the territorial edge and allowed them to put sustained pressure on their hosts. Scott Hancocks was denied a second try as the referee called him back for a technical infringement. But the pressure eventually told. A powerful burst by veteran lock George Pope created mayhem in the Newmarket ranks. From the next breakdown, a blind side break by Josh Ives created the space for Ethan Trebble Westlake to canter over from twenty metres. Next on the score sheet was Jay O Brien with his second try of the afternoon after a quick line out caught Newmarket by surprise. Early in the second half, history was created at Norwich with the three Micklethwaite brothers (Paul, Rob and 17 year old Dave) appearing for the first XV at the same time. All three are products of the Norwich youth system.
However, rather than taking control of the game and closing it out as they have done on several occasions this season, Norwich allowed Newmarket back into the game with several uncharacteristic defensive errors. Newmarket took full advantage and their experience showed, pushing Norwich back and grinding them down with their forward orientated style. Newmarket kicked a penalty to give them a two point lead with ten minutes to play. Norwich looked to run the ball at every opportunity but couldn’t find the space.
However, deep into injury time, Norwich were awarded a penalty some thirty five metres out and a chance to win the game. Whilst Rob Micklethwaite had the distance he didn’t have the accuracy and his kick drifted agonisingly wide. Final score was Newmarket 28 Norwich 26. Norwich needs to learn important lessons from this fixture. At times they showed signs of brilliance, but also signs of naivety. Lessons will need to be learnt if they are to continue their promotion challenge this season.
Anglian Home Improvements supporting communities across the UK. Visit the Anglian website for information on our home improvement products.