Momentum swings North Walsham's way as Maidenhead lose thrilling opener

Dave Cole

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Maidenhead RFC 21-24 North Walsham RFC

On an afternoon when momentum ebbed and flowed, Maidenhead were edged out 24-21 by North Walsham in their first ever London & South East Premier Division clash.

Maids looked to have the measure of their opponents from Norfolk after tries from Dave Cole and Elio Mandozzi gave them an 18-10 advantage early in the second period.

Playing in their first competitive match for close to 18 months Maids were knocking on the door to score a third try, with Cole inexplicably failing to ground the ball as he barged over close to the posts.

The home side continued to pile on the pressure and created an overlap on the left, however, a loose pass presented Dan Smith with the chance to intercept and run the length of the Braywick Park pitch to score under the posts.

From seemingly being on the verge of extending their healthy advantage, Walsham had dragged the score back to 18-17 through the cunning of Smith.

Almost instantly Maids gave themselves another cushion through the boot of Ed Keohane to make it 21-17, however, Smith was again afforded too much space on the right, and he angled his way through a series of missed tackles to score once more.

The conversion was added by Matt Hodgson to make it 21-24, and that’s the way it remained. It felt like the game might have one more momentum changing moment, but it never materialised as a series of fumbles and knock ons prevented Maids from seriously threatening another score.

Having never played in this league before, Maids had little insight or knowledge of how their opponents would play and they were pressed into defence as the visitors dominated possession and territory in the early stages.

Walsham took the lead after 11 minutes, when Callum Anthony’s clever kick over the Maidenhead back line was seized upon by Jordan Mustard, who collected the ball well to touch down in the corner. Hodgson slotted the extras to make it 7-0.

There was genuine concern for one of Walsham’s players when he was knocked out attempting to tackle Mandozzi, but the break seemed to favour the hosts who gradually clawed their way back into contention.

Captain Ben Mitchell broke clear on the left and, although he wasn’t able to offload the ball for a teammate to score, Maids were awarded a penalty which Keohane put over to make it 3-7 in the 21st minute. Eight minutes later another infringement saw Keohane score his second penalty to move Maids to within a point, and although Hodgson restored their four-point lead with a kick of his own, the game was definitely back in the balance.

Whether or not they deserved to go into the break ahead, the hosts grabbed the lead for the first time in the 40th minute when Cole picked up from the back of the scrum and forced his way over (13-10).

David Mobbs-Smith’s side got just the start to the second half they wanted when Mandozzi pulled off the back of a rolling maul and held off a couple of tackles to score. Keohane missed the extras with his kick fading just wide of the posts.

Walsham came close to responding when they drove forward from a lineout close to Maids’ line, but repeated attempts to force their way over were repelled and the hosts’ survived.

Midway through the second half you couldn’t conceive that Maids would lose the game. Walsham looked ragged conceding penalties and territory as the hosts pressed for what would have been a third and decisive try. Cole must have thought he’d got it when he carried the ball over the whitewash, but a momentary lapse saw him fail to ground the ball and the referee, who was right on the spot, gave a knock on.

Then, in the 68th minute, came the moment which turned the game in Walsham’s favour.

Maids were in the ascendancy and had numbers over on the left, but a poor pass was intercepted by Smith who ran in to score and the complexion of the game completely turned. Walsham’s man-of-the-match Smith then completed the turnaround, darting in from the right to touch down under the posts with five minutes to play and ensure a seesaw opening league game went the way of the visitors.

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