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Mersea Island 36 - 20 Fakenham

Mersea Island 36 - 20 Fakenham

Alex Lacey31 Mar - 08:28
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Photo by Colin Tucker

Mersea Island welcomed Fakenham to the Glebe on Easter Saturday in the penultimate round of Counties 2 Eastern Counties, looking to wrestle 5th place in the league off the visitors. Fakenham – who had a much-changed side from the one earlier in the season – were not to be taken lightly. Being near the top of the table after 19 games shows the class of any team, and it was a battle from first whistle to last.

Mersea kicked off to start the game, and after a couple of phases Fakenham cleared their lines. The ball didn’t go out, and Mersea countered wide left, with debutant Isaac Whiting then cutting back right and through the middle of the flailing defenders. The next phases saw the ball lost forward, and a scrum set for the visitors. Fakenham cleared again, and right wing Tom Struth caught it clean and ran back hard into the oncoming traffic. Unfortunately Struth’s lower leg was caught and twisted under a heap of bodies and his day came to an end early.

From here, Mersea looked to start again, and put pressure on the visiting team. With a 4-try bonus point on their minds, it didn’t take long for Mersea to open their account. From a lineout on the left hand 10m line, Captain Ollie White rose high to feed it quickly down to George Chisnall, with quick hands giving Ben Norfolk a crash ball in the midfield. The ball then sprayed wide right, before coming back to flyhalf Aidan Frensham who put blindside flanker Toby Holmes-Lord into a hole that only a brilliant cover tackle could stop. Chisnall picked and went, before hooker Nic Woodhead finished the move to score. Norfolk converted for a 7-0 lead.

Scrums and lineouts dominated the next 15 minutes, with the game slowly lurching from set piece to set piece. However, it was Mersea who came out on top in this phase of the game, with good pressure forcing an exit from inside the Fakenham 22 to squirt off the boot sideways and give the home team another lineout 10 metres out. White went up again, and the wide pass from Chisnall to Norfolk gave the latter a chance to run at the defenders who dropped off the tackle to allow Norfolk to score.

It was now Fakenham’s turn to put the pressure on, and a scrum 5 metres out from the Mersea tryline gave them that shot. However, the attackers were bundled into touch, and Mersea had the lineout. The ball was turned over, and Fakenham went over the tryline; only for last gasp defence to hold it up, giving Mersea a goal line drop out. Frensham went left, and the unkind bounce eluded the Fakenham defenders and bounced up into Mersea hands. Unfortunately when the pop came off the floor, it was into the Fakenham centres hands, and he ran in the few metres to score. The conversion was missed and it now 12-5 to Mersea.

The last 15 minutes saw Mersea score two more trys, to reach halftime with the bonus point secured, and a healthy lead to defend. The first came from a scrum wide right, 40 metres out from the tryline. Frensham took the ball to the line before whipping it back to Alex Strutt. The Fakenham 13 came up hard for the spot tackle, only for Strutt to bounce out of it and offload. Quick hands found Whiting on the edge, who gassed his opposite, with only another super cover tackle stopping him just short. Although the ball looked to have gone forward from his grasp, the ref allowed play to go on and Welch was on hand to dive over the line and score.

Minutes later, Mersea scored again with the moment of the match. A rare mistake from the Mersea lineout gave Fakenham a chance to attack, and the ball was shipped out to the midfield. Norfolk met the attacker head on with a lovely chop tackle, and then from an onside position, jackled the ball and took off upfield. With no one at home, Norfolk then booted the ball downfield and it was a footrace between he and the retreating Fakenham defenders. Then from out of nowhere, Strutt streaked past everyone and with a kind bounce, collected the ball to go in under the sticks. 24-5 at the break, and it all to play for in the second half.

If the first half had some action, the second half was slightly lacking it, with both sides again slowly going from one set piece to another. This suited Fakenham, and with a slew of penalties now going their way, they managed to get back into the game. Firstly, a penalty was knocked over by their 10 to reduce the score to 24-8. The next score was from a scrum inside the Mersea redzone, with the forwards coming around the corner to score their second try of the match. The conversion was missed but the score whittled again down to 26-13. 20 minutes remained, and Fakenham were desperate to get the 4-try bonus point to maintain 5th place in the league.

Fakenham seemed to have all the ball and Mersea just had to keep defending, although more penalties came to keep Fakenham on the front foot. It was at this point – with just 15-minute remaining – that Mersea chanced their arm from a lineout 30 metres from their own tryline. Woodhead hit White again, and the ball was shipped out to midfield. Having drifted into the middle, Strutt produced another bit of magic after taking the ball from a standing start. First gassing the oncoming defender, Stutt then took off down field to take on the Fakenham backfield. With Ben Gardiner and Whiting in support, Strutt sold the dummy to then finish of another worldy try from 80 metres out. Norfolk couldn’t convert but it was now 31-13 and seemingly no way back for the visitors.

However, the last few minutes were a tense affair as Fakenham – valiantly fighting to the very last whistle – scored their third from another scrum inside the Mersea 22 to bring it back to 31-20. If the visitors scored one more, they would deny Mersea 5th place, and leave it until the last game against Woodbridge for the chance to do so. However, that was not to be, and the Islanders managed to put one more score on the board. A final lineout inside the Fakenham 22 was driven forward for Woodhead to crash over. The final score was 36-20 to Mersea, who did the job they set out to do by denying Fakenham anything and securing the try bonus point.

Mersea Island are home again next Saturday with 4th placed Woodbridge visiting the Glebe.

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