West Norfolk welcomed league leaders Shelford 2nds to Gatehouse Lane on Saturday, knowing that they would need to pull out one of their best performances of the season to beat a side who had so far only lost once and already have eight try bonus points to their name. With both Lewis Rudd and JJ Hart unavailable in the forwards from the previous week, West welcomed back Nic Bull and Alex Miles. In the backs, George Lemon’s absence would mean that team captain Wicks would move back into the centres and Olly Denton would start at fly half.

A competitive first few minutes saw both sides tussling for possession. West’s scrum operated much more efficiently and this provided quick ball, enabling Wicks to make numerous dangerous runs into the Shelford half. A short period of possession for Shelford resulted in West conceding a penalty just inside their 10m line, which the Shelford fly half easily kicked over for 3 points.

Shelford showed why they have the most try bonus points in the league with their attacking game, looking dangerous at every opportunity. The defensive effort for West was led by No.8 James Dobbler, and absorbed the pressure for a number of phases before forcing the Shelford fly half to kick over the West back line, only for the visitor’s winger to fumble. With ball in hand, full back Hayden Revell and center Sam Landles linked up, running the ball back deep into the Shelford half. With Shelford scrambling, they gave away a penalty at the ruck and without hesitation, Dobbler tapped and went, driving over the try line from 5m out to open West’s account for the afternoon, with Wicks converting.

The try lit a fire in West who began applying pressure to Shelford’s defence all over the field. Penalties began to flow for the hosts, although Wicks narrowly missed one from out wide before coolly kicking the next one over to open the gap to seven points. With Stewart, Jones and Bull carrying hard for West, Denton took to the boot to put pressure on the Shelford back three. Eventually a handling error was made by the visitors and scrum half Bateman pounced on the ball, only to be held in the tackle, meaning the referee awarded West a penalty just inside the Shelford 22m line. Bateman opted to tap and go down the blind side, offloading to Denton, and the experienced No.10 calmly stepped two defenders and scored close to the right touch line, with Wicks then adding the conversion.

With half time looming, Shelford were by no means going to lay down and allow West to have an easy ride. Using their pace out wide, Shelford began to test the fringes of West’s defence and build momentum with a number of strong phases. Taking their time, eventually the league leaders found themselves close to the West Norfolk try line and panicking slightly, West gave away two penalties in quick succession, with Shelford opting for the scrum on both. On the second scrum,  Shelford’s no.8 picked up the ball from the back of the scrum and using his strength, crashed over the line for a try. The final few minutes before half time would see both sides battling for territory with Denton continuing to pepper the Shelford back 3 with kicks. The half time whistle went, with West on 17 v 8 Shelford.

One hoped that the momentum of the first half and a lively Gatehouse Lane crowd would spur West on to continue their fine form from before half time, but unfortunately this would not be the case and Shelford went on to show why they are in the position that they are. With a largely quiet third quarter, the back three trio of Burgess, Crewe and Revell nullified the Shelford threat out wide, forcing the visitors to carry hard up the middle of the park. As the half ticked on, eventually a Shelford lineout created quick ball for the Shelford center to then hit a smart line, splitting the West defense and touching down just to the left of the posts. With now a two-point gap in the scores, the game was in the balance but it would be the league leaders who tipped the scales in their favour.

Despite great work from Chapman, Nunn and Newton-Walters in the front row of West’s scrum, they could not get the rub of the green from the whistle and Shelford went on to capitalise on a quick tap penalty to take the lead with minutes to go.

From the restart, Shelford continued their onslaught and marched their way back down to the West 5m line. With the host’s seemingly trying to cling on for a losing bonus point a huge defensive effort from Stewart, Dobbler and Wicks denied Shelford any easy scores and eventually West was rewarded with a turnover and a kick for touch to relieve the pressure. However, in the final few minutes West was cruelly put to the sword, with a smart interception following a West lineout resulting in an easy run-in for a Shelford back and another bonus point win for the league leaders. FT West 17 v 27 Shelford 2s. Adrian Flux man of the match was James Dobbler (sponsored by Trundley Design).

Head coach Darren Clarke commented: “For the third week running we were competitive with a team currently in the top 3 in the league but once again we came away with nothing to show for our efforts. We are currently lacking some belief and confidence, and we need to react better when opposition sides have a good period of play or when decisions don’t go our way. Having said that there were plenty of positives to take away from the game and the performance was once again a step up from the previous week. Squad depth is improving and hopefully with more players returning in the next few weeks we will see more cohesion moving forward.”

West 1sts now have a week off before travelling away to Cantabrigian.