Exciting times at Scottow! The Vikings enter 2019 in third spot on 59 points, eleven ahead of fourth placed HAC. Above in London One North are the only two sides to have beaten them: Rochford (70 points) and Colchester (62). The winners of both this League and London One South are promoted to South East Premier, with the runners up from each playing off for the third promotion place.
The table makes interesting reading. Just 15 points separate HAC and ninth placed Southend, then a 12 point gap to Sudbury in tenth who only have seven more than thirteenth placed Fullerians. "This could change rapidly," says North Walsham's Head of Rugby Johnny Marsters. "Injuries can play a big part, squads are small. Threat of relegation can be a motivator, there are no easy games."
Supporters have enjoyed some thrilling rugby, with an improving team full of ball handlers playing a fast paced passing game generating tries from all parts. Confidence is high: "we approach every game expecting to win," says captain Will Hodgson. Away form - the Vikings travel much further than anyone else in their league - is as strong as home, a big turnaround. Only four years ago they went thirteen months without winning away. Whilst the try scoring grabs the headlines their game is based on solid defence. At Rochford 80% of the first half was in their twenty two, yet at half time they were just 5 -0 down; Southend completely dominated the first quarter but the Vikings won 57 -7. "We're good at absorbing pressure," comments Marsters, "managing well the times we don't have the ball."
A hallmark of good sides is winning when not playing well, such as at Ruislip. The two defeats aside, all the other teams with top three ambitions have been well beaten - Eton Manor, Old Haberdashers, Old Priorians, HAC. The latter December victory, in difficult conditions after a long journey, against a side with an almost identical record, was particularly impressive.
Stability at half back and greater strength in depth are two noticeable differences compared with last season. Lee Thomson and Matt Hodgson have played every game whereas the first fourteen matches of 2017 -18 saw six different pairings. The larger squad has enabled Marsters to manage the playing time of senior players who have responded by playing as well as ever. Newcomers Matt Travers, Donavin Dejongh, Dan Bird, Joe Milligan and Frank Scott have integrated well, buying into the team's culture of continuous improvement and teamwork. The Club wants to give opportunities to local players so the big impacts made by Bird, ex - Swaffham, and Milligan are very encouraging . Scott, like Michael Mulhall who debuted against Diss, started in the Minis. Marsters is keen to see players coming through the ranks and has thought hard about transition from the Youth teams. The Colts train on Thursdays alongside the Seniors and he is encouraging their involvement on match days.
The Club's progress is particularly impressive considering Marsters was off sick for a month. Assistant Coaches James Knight and Ryan Oakes, like Marsters only appointed in July, took on the leadership role doing really well. "I knew they would, we are very much a collective."
Marsters stresses the season so far is history. "We start again at nil - nil. We've got to keep working hard, keep improving, be a bit more clinical and adaptable. The momentum is with us, there's lots of potential in this young squad and we fear no-one."
The Vikings next game is at Sudbury on 5th January. Ruislip then visit Scottow, before on the 19th they travel to Colchester.
Updated 12:28 - 27 Dec 2018 by Richard Hewitt