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An unforgettable season

Just Regional
Apr 20, 2020 3 mins read

North Walsham Rugby Club correspondent PAUL MORSE looks back on an unforgettable season.

The 2019-20 season will always be remembered for its premature end, but it was nevertheless a memorable one for the Vikings: promotion to London & South East Premier achieved with four matches left and 24 points ahead. “Best in the 30 years I’ve been watching,” was one supporter’s comment and it’s hard to disagree – although near promotion to National One in 2005-06, runs it close.

But that was a very cosmopolitan team; in contrast half the current squad came though the club’s Youth system and a further quarter hail from Norfolk.

The 2018-19 had been good – finishing third and defeated only by the teams above them. Head of rugby Johnny Marsters knew his squad was talented enough for promotion, but was concerned about depth – eight players left last summer and three joined. Pre -season went well: “We’re four weeks ahead of where we were last year,” he commented in late August, and it certainly felt like their opponents were four weeks behind as they recorded eight bonus point wins from the first eight, including a first win at Colchester.

They overwhelmed opponents, their points difference already a massive 210.

In November, a disjointed display versus Sudbury and their sole defeat at Harpenden proved minor blips as they won their remaining 12. There were many impressive results, coming from behind at Brentwood perhaps the pick.

Jake Duffield (left) and Matt Hodgson are pictured in action for Vikings.

The breathtaking tries from long distance will stay in the memory longest: a team of pacey ball handlers they switched from defence to attack instantaneously. Their game, though, was built around solid defence and patience, conceding only 11.3 points per game. Pride in their defence was very evident.

Clearly the squad consisted of exceptionally skilful individuals, but there were many qualities that made such a special team.

First, togetherness. They enjoyed each other’s company and playing rugby together. “Everyone bought into the culture, of team before self, continuous improvement,” says Marsters.

The high fitness levels were also a credit to the players, physios and coaches. They were remarkably resilient, too. They coped without Chris Godwin for the whole season and Joe Milligan after Christmas.

The eight fixtures after Christmas, all against sides with something to play for, were daunting, but they won them all. Nothing fazed them: late changes at Chingford; scoring three tries in 10 minutes to turn the match at Eton Manor; holding their nerve at Sudbury.

They also showed individual and collective adaptability. Winger Donavin DeJongh played half the season in the back row; Ethan Sikorski, in only his second match at this level, played his first ever game in the second row. Half backs Jake Duffield and Matt Hodgson managed games adroitly, adapting to match and ground conditions.

Ryan Oakes, Johnny Marsters and James Knight.

And last, but not least, leadership. “Matt Hodgson is an outstanding leader,” says Masters, “but there are lots of other leaders; one of Matt’s skills was harnessing others’ contributions, knowing when to let them have their say.”

The Coaches’ contribution should also be recognised: Johnny Marsters, James Knight, Ryan Oakes and Danny Cubbit were another outstanding team. Whatever happens, coronavirus cannot take away the Vikings’ achievements of 2019 -20. 

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