DIVISION ONE NORTH
North Walsham 36
‘Unbelievable’ was how Diss head coach Dave Smith summed up his side’s second-half response as pride, even in defeat to their greatest rivals, became the over-riding emotion at full-time on Saturday.
There were 19 points separating 10th-placed Diss from sixth-placed North Walsham heading into this derby.
But after the opening 40 minutes you could have been forgiven for thinking they were leagues apart as the visitors came off having scored six tries to two, holding a 26-point lead.
Yet, the Blues came out in the second half a totally different proposition and managed to use their strength in the pack to lay the foundations for four unanswered tries that, if they had managed to convert more than half, would have seen the comeback complete.
As it was, Arron Forest’s kick from the right touchline in the dying moments failed to let the Vikings off the hook.
“In the first half they blew us away a little bit and we were so slow to get out of the blocks. But in the second half I could not be more proud of them. We absolutely battered them,” said Smith.
“We have a lot of injuries and we have had a guy go off with a broken leg (winger Todd Wishart) but that display probably deserved more than the two points we got out of it, though I’m really happy to get two points.”
Asked what he had said at half-time, Smith replied: “You don’t have to say much when they know they have let themselves down.
“But for a few decisions which went against us, it was ours. And I am just incredibly proud of what they have done.”
A close contest in the reverse fixture had ended up yielding a landslide victory for North Walsham as they ran in four tries in the last quarter of the game to win 53-19.
It took them less than a quarter-of-an-hour to run up a 19-point lead on Saturday with Royden Miller’s close-range finish starting things off as early as the fourth minute, before a neat low kick to the corner was pounced on by Jim Riley four minutes later, with Lee Thomson’s second conversion kick not making its target.
An awful handling error saw Will Hodgson put down North Walsham’s third, this time converted, to make it 19-0 with only 13 minutes on the clock.
There was finally something for the large home crowd to cheer six minutes later when full-back Chris Beaird charged through on the right following a great break by Steve Hipwell, but Forest’s kick bounced away off the posts.
The bonus point arrived for the Vikings in the 22nd minute as Josh Brown spun too easily through three defenders before a similar move saw Hodgson over the line.
Sandwiched between those tries was another for Diss as Shaq Meyers added a finishing touch to some rare sustained pressure for the home side.
Visiting captain Ryan Oakes got in down Diss’ left for 36-10 at the break.
But Diss certainly showed mental, as much as physical, strength in the second period as Forest ended a promising opening 13 minutes with his side’s third try, with a clever give and go with Connor McBryie taking him over before adding the conversion.
The same player added another converted try just after the hour mark to reduce the arrears to 12 points at 36-24, giving the home crowd some hope of a comeback.
After a stoppage for Wishart’s serious leg injury, his team-mates managed to regain the momentum.
Teenage centre Elliot Rayment looked to be chasing down a lost cause on his own but terrible handling on the loose ball not only saw him reclaim possession but he went on to hold off several tacklers to put down his first senior try and, at 36-29, after a missed kick, set-up a grandstand finish with 10 minutes to go.
The try the home crowd craved arrived in added on time when Beaird stole away to the right corner, before Forest failed to write himself as the ultimate hero.
Diss have a free weekend but when they return to action, at Saffron Walden on March 3, they will be without Kiwi winger Isiah Graham-Hooper and hooker Ed Hudson, who both played their last game on Saturday before leaving the country.