It was another wonderful autumn afternoon in Norfolk, with a damp, yielding pitch, and a sunny but windless day; perfect conditions for good rugby. Our opponents, Crusaders, not enjoying the best of fortune and a very strong Cantabs XV, we could be forgiven for thinking it might be a straightforward win. John Ireland, one of our non playing members turned up to support and he did say that Crusaders were now local to him and had been playing some good rugby, and should not be underestimated.
Mikey Goode, 2nd XV captain was picked to start at prop, and Charlie Searle continued at hooker. Captain, Richard Ford and Dean James, were back at 8 and 9 respectively, with Kiwi Adrian Clague trying out at fly half. Sami was back at Centre and Ali McCormick restored to full-back. Good strength on the bench as well, so, as I say, a good team.
Cantabs kicked off up the slope and from the start, Adrian received the ball in space and threaded a grubber kick into touch just a couple of feet inside the right hand corner. The resultant Crusaders throw, was passed to their kicker, but his kick was charged down and Dean touched down but just too late, for the score to count.
6 minutes: after some good approach work by Cantabs, the ball was lost on the Crusaders 22, but our forwards ripped the ball and a typical Warren drive gained good ground. Jon Perks was then on hand for the second phase drive and burst through the defence to score from 10m out. Ali converted, and it was 0 to 7. Plain sailing we thought.
10 minutes: a very good backs move from Crusaders, with their outside centre touching down in the left hand corner; not converted, and it was 5 to 7.
Crusaders took heart from this and looked dangerous when their backs managed to get into their stride. However it was Cantabs that scored next on 15 minutes. Adrian took a quick penalty on our 22, Setch made a great run through a gap in the centre, got his pass away to Sami on his left, who had Ali on his shoulder for a well timed switch inside. Ali beat a couple of players with one of his silky runs and touched down under the posts. He duly converted the kick, 5 to 14, and everything going well.
2 minutes later it was Crusaders who went close. Their miniature scrum half, chipped the ball down the right wing, and just failed to ground the ball in the follow-up.
Cantabs were dominant in the loose and equally so in the scrums with Charlie marshalling the pack well. Cantabs were running everything out of defence, but were spilling the odd pass and so it was that Crusaders gained possession in a good position, moved the ball wide for their right winger to touch down in the corner. Again the conversion failed, but the Norfolk side were back in the game at 10 to 14, and 25 minutes gone.
It was now a good open game with Crusaders always looking dangerous on the break, but Cantabs forwards dominating the scrums and the rucks.
33 minutes, Cantabs steal the ball on our 22 and again run the ball out of defence. But, the referee penalises us for crossing and Crusaders take advantage to strike home the penalty; 13 to 14, and a little concern for the Cantabs supporters.
For the remainder of the half, Cantabs settled down to play well, one good catch and run by Sami was memorable; but no further score in the half.
The second half started much the same with Cantabs now dominating. Mikey Goode gave way to Isaia Barbieri at prop. The pressure finally told when we were awarded a penalty 25m out, duly converted by Ali, 13 to 17.
Time after time Cantabs came close, and were virtually camped in the Crusaders half for quarter of an hour. The Crusaders scrum was pushed backwards at speed on their ball and as a consequence good possession was difficult for them. Finally, the referee tired of the constant offsides, and awarded Cantabs a penalty, 30m out and central. Ali made it four out of four; 13 to 20. Ben James replaced Jonny Heaver at blindside, and the Cantabs pack continued its dominance.
60 minutes: Jon Perks burst through the defence yet again, from 10m out, but was adjudged to have dropped the ball in grounding. Euan Wilder came on for Setch at Centre.
70 minutes, yet another scrum won by Charlie against the head, from close to the Crusaders line. Richard Ford just failed to touch down from the resulting drive, but Dean was at hand to take the honours; Ali again slotted the conversion, 13 to 27.
Cantabs probably thought a bonus point was on the cards, but despite all the pressure from our pack it was Crusaders who finished strongly, aided by a string of penalties against us, with Cantabs perhaps getting a little to anxious to keep the ball in the Crusaders red area. The final move of the game saw the Crusaders left winger touch down for an unconverted try. The whistle went with the final score at 18 to 27. Man of the match was awarded to Jon Perks.
So, three tries each and Crusaders cheered off by their supporters, but with nothing to show for their endeavour. Crusaders will surprise a few teams yet, and will surely move up the league playing like this.
A little disappointing for Cantabs to miss out on that bonus point; but still another away win, our fifth of the campaign, and the side still with a 100% record, at the top of Eastern Counties 1. Wisbech just scraped a win at Southwold by two points and also have a 100% record.
The game against Wisbech at Sedley Taylor Road in three weeks time promises to be a cracker, and with our Christmas lunch planned for the same day, not one to miss.