Woodbridge was expecting a demanding contest with top-of-the-table Thetford and Saturday didn’t disappoint. In steadily falling snow the visitors started confidently, holding an early scrum and No 8 Luke Bailey working well with his scrum half Chris Thomas. The crowd were reminded of the 49-3 away loss but were lifted when Woodbridge won an early penalty as the Thetford front row went down. Another scrum and Woodbridge started to look sharp, edging play downfield with centre Jack Johnson much in evidence. Thetford suffered penalty after penalty as they scrambled together a defence against a lively series of attacks based around centreTom Stokes and No8 Jono Cooke with JP Hart having to be forced into touch. Woodbridge looked as if they had learned from their last encounter. Thetford’s busy 15; Will Martin was then pinged for holding on but Jack Johnson missed the 3 points. Woodbridge missed another penalty attempt and injury forced Thetford to start making substitutions. The penalties kept coming against Thetford and Hart found an attacking position deep in the Thetford 22. Several charges were put in from forwards; Cooke, Tim Johnson, Aldis Salavejs and Nick Woodley. Woodbridge was dominating territory, the scrum and possession so it was credit to the visitor’s defence, lock; Will Chase and the Thetford back row; Dan Cotton, Zak Pizzey and Bailey that they didn’t score. The scrum was a good source of Warrior ball on all put ins and several times they moved the ball wide but the last pass went astray and the fast-paced first half ended scoreless.
Woodbridge continued its energetic onslaught in the second half, Hart and Jamie Smith bombing full back Bailey and chasing fast to stifle counterattacks. Both sides were kicking more but, with Dan Bond and Tim Johnson performing well at the line-out, the lion’s share of ball stayed with the home side. Injury reduced Thetford to 14 men and their luckless streak continued when Thomas decided to run a penalty only for Bailey to be done for holding on. And so it continued – an intense, fruitless battle between David and Goliath until the 75th minute. Players, spectators, coaching staff and probably even the ref were thinking of a football 0-0 draw, a warm clubhouse, an England Wales international on the telly and maybe refreshment when a remarkable thing happened. Thetford centre Adam Harper broke from a midfield ruck and found space. He ran 40 metres brushing off Jamie Smith to score in the corner. The only sound was the tolling of a Thetford supporter’s bell as Hatchley Barn fell silent. Was this to be the reward for dominating territory? Woodbridge ran back to the centre spot. Two minutes to play. A long kick and fast charge put them in the diametrically opposite corner, 5 metres from hope. Cooke took responsibility, Thetford responded, Stokes took over, Adam Plummer to Cooke again then Stokes took a first step towards martyrdom and battled through prop Gary Lawrence and an exhausted, depleted defence to level the score on the whistle. Jack Johnson stepped up and, watched by his team mates lined abreast on the centre line, stuck the cherry on the cake to wild celebrations from a royally-entertained crowd. Exhausting to play and watch, it’s a testament to Thetford, who were down a man for most of the second half and remain top of the table, how much the win meant to Woodbridge.