Norwich RFC 12
Sudbury RFC 33
Graham Richards could not hide his pride as his Sudbury Rugby Club side sealed their London Two North East play-off place with victory at Norwich.
Having only sealed promotion to London Two North East last season, the Whittome Field-based outfit have built on the momentum of that perfect championship-winning campaign and maintained their hopes of back-to-back promotions with a hard-fought fifth-straight victory.
And having seen his side go from strength-to-strength throughout the year, Richards, who is leaving his position at the end of the current campaign, hailed his charges for surpassing all expectations this season.
“We knew victory today meant Diss could not catch us and that is exactly what we did,” said Richards, after watching his side secure second spot.
“We weren’t really interested in anyone else coming into the game because the focus had to be on us and we did our job, that is all that mattered.
“It is never easy coming up to Norwich and I thought they played really well, so you have to give them credit.
“I think most would absolutely consider ourselves a surprise package this season, but in life you get rewarded for your efforts and this group have been fantastic all season.
“We have got an average age of just 22 and their commitment all year has been fantastic.
“In my mind I always considered third or fourth place a huge achievement anyway, so to guarantee second place and a play-off spot as we have is amazing and full credit to the squad.
“In terms of the play-offs, it is job done but we still have a massive game next week against Rochford Hundred where victory would secure us a home tie for the play-offs.
“That could prove massive and that is our aim, but Rochford will be coming to us to spoil the party and we have to be aware of that.”
Following a fairly nervy and even opening 10 minutes, the game finally burst into life as the visitors broke the deadlock.
Receiving the ball out on the right, Shaun Smith demonstrated his blistering pace by skipping past three challengers before racing clear to score.
Tom Summers stepped up and dispatched the simple conversion to gift Sudbury a 7-0 advantage.
Sudbury’s task was made harder after 27 minutes as Jake Thurlow was shown a yellow card and sin-binned following an infringement.
However, despite their numerical advantage, the home side could not make it count in the proceeding 10-minute period as Sudbury’s defensive line held firm to repel any advances.
And with neither side able to break each other down in the remaining minutes of the half, the score remained 7-0 at the interval.
However, that quickly changed after the restart as the visitors doubled their lead with the second-half seven minutes old.
Following a prolonged period of pressure in the right corner, Sam Conning managed to force his way through a crowd of bodies and over the line.
And despite angle, Summers again added the extras with a pinpoint kick to take the score to 14-0.
That momentum continued and Sudbury quickly extended their advantage as their physical prowess again proved decisive with Chris Whybrow emerging from the pack to bundle over in the left corner.
This time Summers fell short with the conversion as the score remained at 19-0.
To their credit, Norwich refused to lay down and rallied with 20 minutes remaining to hit back with two tries of their own.
The first saw a flowing move from the left-hand side finished off brilliantly by Jonny Wheater and converted by Ben Girling, before eight minutes later, Laurence Austin skipped through Sudbury’s defensive line to reduce the deficit to just seven points with an unconverted try.
However, despite the setbacks, Sudbury were soon back in the ascendency and regained a 14-point advantage with another try after 70 minutes.
Again a period of prolonged pressure ensued in the right corner with Whybrow again profiting, adding the final touch by forcing his way over the try line.
Summers stepped up and despite the strong headwind, sent his kick through the centre of the posts to see his side 26-12 ahead.
And with six minutes remaining, Sudbury put the game beyond doubt with their fifth try of the afternoon as Thurlow jinked his way through a gap in Norwich’s defensive line to race away.
Summers stepped up and added the final score of the match to wrap up victory and confirm his side’s place in the play-offs.
n On Saturday, Rochford will be the visitors as Sudbury play their last home league game of the season (3pm).