It was back to grass-roots rugby after the festive break and I travelled to Norfolk for a pre-match lunch at Crusaders RFC who were playing Woodbridge in an Eastern Counties One fixture. I took the train to Norwich and got a lift to the club for an afternoon that turned out to be very productive in terms of networking and information gathering and sharing.
Eastern Counties Chairman Bob Cranna and Hon Secretary Roger Pierson were both there so we had a chance to catch up after the lull of the past two weeks, and at lunch I sat next to Norfolk Chairman John Hipperson which gave us a rare opportunity to exchange views about developing the game locally. Robert Temple from Southwold RFC popped in on his way to West Norfolk to collect something from me and during the meal I was rather thrown by the sight of Ian Wade and others from Haverhill having a pint at the bar. When I spoke to them it turned out that they were here for an Eastern Counties Two league game against Norwich Medics who use Crusaders’ ground as their home venue.
This put me in a bit of a dilemma about how to watch two games, but I watched the first half of Crusaders v Woodbridge. I had seen Woodbridge lose at Mersea Island in December in a game where they were outplayed by a team that knew how to use its home conditions to their best advantage. Crusaders scored an early try and most of the play took place in Woodbridge’s half, although the visitors did convert a penalty to go into half-time 7-3 down. I then went to watch the other game but by the volume of the vociferous Woodbridge support I could tell they were having the better of the second half, and sure enough they scored two tries to win 7-17.
Pictures from Crusaders v Woodbridge
I was keen to see how Haverhill were doing following their call-off against Swaffham four weeks earlier, a game that I was due to watch and where ironically Norwich Medics stepped in so a game could take place (see A small club with big ideas). Haverhill were 0-3 ahead when I joined the game and seemed to be having the better of the play. Like Woodbridge, they had brought a band of noisy supporters and it looked to me as though they would be rewarded with a win as Haverhill made a number of surges into the Medics’ 22. However the last pass didn’t go to hand on two or three occasions and it was the turn of the Medics to put pressure on Haverhill’s line for the last ten minutes of the game.
A penalty with three minutes to go allowed Medics to level the scores and everyone seemed reasonably content with the result. More importantly for me I could see that Haverhill were competitive, and speaking to their coach it was a temporary lack of front row that had caused the call-off. Hopefully they can complete the season without a repeat.
Pictures from Norwich Medics v Haverhill
It was then back to the busy clubhouse for a few beers with players and officials from all four teams. I got into conversation with Seamus Farrelly, Chairman of the Eastern Counties branch of the Wooden Spoon Society who do such good work raising money for disadvantaged children, and I managed a quick word with one of the RFU’s recently appointed Community Rugby Coaches Stewart Cameron, who played on the wing for Crusaders scoring their only try.
It felt as though I hadn’t stopped being engaged in conversation for the five hours I was at Crusaders, and although the welcome at the club was as warm as ever I was looking forward to a quiet journey home on the train. The peace turned out to be short-lived as at Diss station some Colchester RFC supporters embarked, celebrating their 18-14 win over Diss RFC. My good intentions of going home and having a early night with no more alcohol were quickly dismissed as first the Northcountymans’ club and then Mussi’s restaurant beckoned, but at least I was home by midnight!
On Sunday morning I reflected on the day before, and I have to admit that I wouldn’t have wanted to spend it any other way. Roll on Saturday!
With thanks to Simon Ballard for the use of the photographs