This match between two London & SE Premier League sides that like to play open running rugby was much closer than the scoreline suggests.
Had Wimbledon not lost all but one of their own lineouts in the first half, two of which resulted directly in tries for North Walsham, the result might have been different.
The reason for their poor lineout was simply that the pack comprised no fewer than six front row players, two back rowers and not a jumper in sight. That they managed to win three of their own and two of North Walsham’s in the second half is to their great credit. And given that this unusual assembly of forwards not only held their own in the set scrum but even stole three of the opposition’s it was a superb effort by all eight.
Wimbledon showed their usual intent to run everything but still to get out of their 22 they conceded a penalty in front of the posts and North Walsham’s number 10 Matt Hodgson had no problem converting.
Five minutes later the visitors backline showed their running intent and despite some fierce Wimbledon tackling created a good try in the corner for wing Dan Smith to make it 0-8.
Soon after, the Dons launched their first attack in North Walsham territory which looked really promising until they lost the ball in contact – and it was not to be the first time in the match. Fifteen minutes in the Dons’ pack won the opposition’s scrum and full-back Ollie Kitto made the first of several scintillating breaks, earning a penalty for number10 Jack Noble to reduce the deficit to 3-8.
The next quarter of the game was very even, both sides trying to break each other’s excellent defences. One North Walsham attack looked a certain try until a superb tackle by Dons centre Alex Pickersgill took his winger out. Sadly he was helped off the pitch moments later to become the latest name on the ever-lengthening injury list.
Then, approaching half time, came the two awful lineouts and tries for wing James Riley and prop Frank Scott, the latter converted by Hodgson to take the score to a misleading looking 3-20.
Things got worse for Wimbledon two minutes into the second half when a series of very threatening attacks deep in North Walsham’s 22 ended with an interception by number eight Will Hodgson and with no Dons player to beat he put Smith in for his second try. Hodgson’s conversion took the score to what looked an insurmountable 3-27.
But with a great fightback Wimbledon outscored the visitors 14-3 during the remaining 38 minutes.
Their first try came after 15 minutes when Kitto got the ball on his own 10-metre line and danced through the clutches of half a dozen defenders before outpacing two others to score beneath the posts and it was 10-27.
Then it became 17-27 with 15 minutes remaining when wing James Millais was tackled into touch just a metre short of the try line and Dons won North Walsham ball from the ensuing lineout and then won a penalty. Quick thinking saw hooker Tyler Reichardt, playing as a flanker, tap the ball and dive over with it. Scrum half Owen Davies made it two out of two conversions.
Try as they might – and they did, very hard – Wimbledon just could not break the North Walsham defence again and a slightly iffy penalty allowed Hodgson to add three points and bring up the final score.
Wimbledon are at home again on Saturday to struggling Tunbridge Well.