West Norfolk 32 Cantabrigians 33A rousing second half comeback wasn’t quite enough for West Norfolk as they were denied the opportunity to leapfrog Cantabrigians into second place in their last home match before Christmas.
Facing a formidable side who are progressing strongly in the league, West knew they would need to be at their best to claim a win.
The hosts went into the match with the return of Paul Denton and Henry Rust in the forwards, with Alex Singleton switching again to centre with the absence of Lewys Weaver.
West kicked off facing the wind and it was Cantabs who had the best start with some powerful runs up the flanks. However, West held firm during these initial exchanges.
A Cantabs penalty from just outside the West 22 went wide before their strong centre pairing broke through to set up their full back.
The visitors kept West under pressure and picked up their second try of the afternoon following an impressive driving maul from the lineout, which ended with their prop bursting over from close range to extend their lead to 12-0.
West then hit back with driving maul from a lineout of their own, which saw flanker Henry Rust go over in the left corner, Monty Maule making the touchline conversion.
With the wind still fairly blustery, Maule then missed a couple of penalty kicks at goal in quick succession before slotting a shot to close the gap at 10-12.
West then started to look dangerous out wide with some fast paced breaks from the likes of Singleton and Ed Maule. Unfortunately, the final pass just missed going to hand when a second score appeared to be on the cards.
As the first half drew to a close Cantabs were able to break free again and their full back went in to leave the scores at 19-10 to the visitors at the interval.
Cantabs started the second half well with a fourth try after a powerful drive from their forward pack to take a dominant 26-10 lead.
However, West upped their game and began to work the catch and drive effectively from lineout jumpers Max Rust and Will Dodds. This saw captain Lawrence Savage crash over in the right hand corner. Henry Rust was rewarded again a few moments later when another driving maul ended with the flanker touching down to close the gap at 20-26.
Struggling against the pace and pressure of West’s play, Cantabs then began to give a number of penalty infringements, which saw their prop sin binned for 10 minutes. Once again, West looked to set up a sequence of driving mauls in the corners. On two occasions they had appeared to have scored via Savage crashing over under a pile of players, but the referee stated he was unsighted on both counts.
West then made a break through the backline, Monty Maule cutting through the defence, before converting his own try to hand West a narrow 27-26 lead with 15 minutes to go.
Cantabs then struck again thanks to their own driving maul, which enabled some quick ball to be fed to their centre, who burst past West’s defence to go in under the posts.
With the scores now at 33-27 and time running out, West launched everything they had at their opponents. Some quality ball was distributed out to the three quarters and winger Tommy Windibank touched down in the left corner to give West a chance of snatching victory. Alas, Monty Maule narrowly missed the conversion to leave the final result in Cantabs’ favour.
Manager Nigel Richardson said: “The lads are bitterly disappointed to have lost after giving everything in a superb second half performance. However, we must keep things in perspective and remember that after being promoted last season, to be third at the halfway point is a tremendous effort from all the players involved.
“That was one of the best games of rugby at Gatehouse Lane for quite some time, with some wonderful tries for the spectators. I know the guys are eager to keep pushing forward and I’m sure they will continue to push for second place.”
West now break for Christmas and return to league action when they travel to Beccles on January 10.
Tulip Man of the Match: Lawrence Savage.