Charlton Park won through to the area final of the Intermediate Cup for the second successive year by beating Norwich on Saturday. The sun shone invitingly on the fields of Norfolk, but the wind came whistling in from the North Sea and points further east. If you stood in the lee of the clubhouse it was a spring day while over the other side of the pitch it was definitely bleak.
A determined eighty-minute all-round performance from Charlton Park won the day in a game between two committed teams. Both had come off decidedly lack-lustre performances last week clearly focussed on not making the same mistakes again and they produced a game full of action and seven tries, although the bitingly cold conditions made it a day for keeping the ball close rather than risking wide passes. This suited Park’s ball-carriers, once they had worked out the dangers of trying ambitious moves. Norwich proved adept at feeding off mistakes and the loose ball, and in their fly-half and centre they had very dangerous counter-attackers.
A good turnout of supporters had made the long journey and it was clear they saw it as a mini-tour, so a win put the icing on the cake, or the Guinness. The home welcome was generous and the sorry display from England on the television afterwards became an irrelevance. Charlton led 20-3 at the break but it was clear that Norwich would fight back; although the visitors had a lot of the ball the home defence was solid and they had to work hard to retain possession in the tackle area.
Norwich led with a penalty before Connor McDonald, who put in an assured performance all game, kicked two to put the visitors ahead, and they were not to be behind again in the game. Once they had got over a bout of careless offloads the forwards slowly but surely gained control and Charlton parked in the Norwich half. A lineout win and a series of drives created a gap through which Alan Knuckey raced for the first try, and right on half-time a scrum drive, after a yellow for the Norwich flanker, resulted in a penalty try.
As expected Norwich came roaring out of the traps in the second half. Park had several minutes of fierce defending to do before a try, converted, reduced the lead to ten points. The game was momentarily in the balance, but there was an all-team togetherness that was missing last week. Jeremy Montes nearly scored, and had to go off injured, but Mark Harlow-Singh and Terry Read were leading from the front and Mark English, man-of-match in everyone’s estimations, was busting through with a combination of quick feet and determination every time he had the ball.
A penalty kick to the corner led to a line-out drive from which Rob Saunderson peeled off to score in the corner and a three-score margin again. However Park were coming under pressure and yellow cards for Ben Pritchard and Beau Stanford-Francis reduced them temporarily to 13. Norwich scored and converted after a dangerous back move, but Park were able to come back and patient recycling once they had gained a position on the line was finished off under the posts by Reion Raybe, whose running had posed a threat all game. A last minute converted try was only a consolation to the home side.
All the side deserves congratulations for what was a really satisfying performance. Everyone stuck in, everyone contributed, Alan Knuckey organised. It was a raucous and eventful journey home. Thanks to everyone at Norwich for making us so welcome and good luck to them for the rest of the season.
We face Camberley at home in our second successive regional final on March 17th.