This was billed to be the match of the season at Sedley Taylor Road. First place Wisbech against second place Cantabs; both teams unbeaten in all competitions and separated by just two points in the league. A pre match Christmas lunch for the home supporters and a coach full of Wisbech Fen Tigers gave the match the right kind of send off. The Cantabs team was as good as injuries would permit; only captain Rich Ford not available, owing to a groin strain.
Cantabs kicked off into a low winter sun that had just about taken the sharp frost out of the playing surface. From the kick off Cantabs gained early possession but an intercepted pass gave Wisbech a chance to run the ball back. Cantabs were penalised just left of centre and only 20m out. Wisbech took the points on offer; 0 to 3 and those tigers were roaring.
After 5 minutes, Wisbech were awarded another penalty in their own half and the opposing full-back chose to kick from 60m; he got the distance but missed on the left. The Cantabs faithful breathed a sigh of relief, but for the first 10 minutes play was concentrated in the Cantabs half, with the Wisbech backs looking sharp.
But after 15 minutes Cantabs took their first scrum against the head and that seemed to lift the whole team and the faithful. The Cantabs pack was now on top and following a great series of rucks and assaults on the Wisbech defence by our front five, the play had moved well into kicking range. Jon Evans duly obliged with a penalty for handling in the ruck and Ali made the score 3 each from close in.
Cantabs through Sami, Charlie, Jonny, Dan, Isaia and Perksy, were making the Wisbech defenders rather sore with their constant assault, through very direct running. When they were not, it was Chris, Warren and Bevan blasting out the hard yards.
20 minutes, following a 5m lineout, the pack mauled the ball to the Wisbech line and Isaia appeared to make the telling dive for the line, but was adjudged held up.
For the next ten minutes it was Cantabs winning the forward battle. Wisbech could not live with our scrum, and their lineouts were being picked off by Bevan or going wayward. Cantabs lineouts were much improved, and although nearly all of the throws were to Bevan, he coped with them very well. When Wisbech backs did get the ball they moved it across the field smartly, their left winger always looked dangerous, with his sidestep and speed. The other danger at inside centre was dealt with when he hit our Fijian wall. The Cantabs forwards gave scrum half Dean plenty of chances to show his passing skills but our backs were guilty of spilling a lot of ball, as Wisbech defended admirably. The Fen Tigers roared at each error, but their delight was short-lived as our pack continued to win the battle up front, and the ball in the loose. Throughout the match our rucking was superb and the direct running from Perks and Sami gained the vital yards.
After 34 minutes, Wisbech had a rare chance to take the lead again, but their full back missed from out 10m line, and the faithful took breath again.
So, honours even at half time, as far as the score went, with both teams battling as though their lives depended on the result. Territorially, Cantabs won the half, and one of the Wisbech supporters remarked that Cantabs would fade as The Wisbech fitness told. How wrong he was!
Wisbech kicked off the second half but although they gathered the kick, Cantabs bundled their man into touch; and so the Cantabs pressure continued. Play moved towards the Wisbech line, and another transgression was spotted by “Sir” and the resultant penalty was slotted by Ali from 25m; 6 to 3, and the faithful were celebrating the lead for the first time.
The continual onslaught from our forwards was giving the Wisbech defence headaches, Dean driving them on, Irish James now joining Sami in gaining yard after yard the hard way. Two huge hits by Charlie Searle on their No 10 were memorable, but to a man, Cantabs were tackling and defending brilliantly.
Wisbech were struggling to keep us out, and after 48 minutes were penalised once again. Ali made it three out of three from 30m; 9 to 3 and the Tigers were merely purring now.
Cantabs continued to press, but were penalised inside the Wisbech 22. Their mercurial fly half took a quick tap, gained twenty metres in no time at all, and suddenly with the ball switched left at speed, their No 12 was free for only the second time in the whole match. In an attempt to prevent a score wide on the left and only 10m out, Charlie was yellow carded for an illegal tackle, right in front of the Fen Tigers, who sprang into life again (55 minutes gone).
But despite being a man short, only three minutes later, Cantabs had fought their way back into the Wisbech half. Again Wisbech were penalised, and Ali made it four from four from 30m; 12 to 3 and a bit of breathing space for Cantabs.
After 65 minutes Charlie returned to the fray, order returned to the Cantabs scrum, Wisbech were being pushed off the ball with regularity and Dean and Adrian were starting to dance their way through the tiring Wisbech defence. Yes it was Wisbech tiring, not the Cantabs. Louis Mann, fresh back from his sojourn to the Sub-Continent came on for Dan, James Walton replaced Ben Farmer. Wisbech No 15 retired injured, and their main kicking threat had seemingly disappeared.
However, after 75 minutes, Wisbech managed to reduce the arrears with an easy penalty from only 15m, and they were suddenly back in the game with a chance; 12 to 6.
Dean’s kick off was just the job, gathered by Wisbech just two metres from touch on their 22; the Cantabs simply bundled man and ball into touch. Bevan won the ball, yet again, the ball was moved right and Wisbech infringed. Ali lined up the kick, but narrowly missed. That was really the last action, so Wisbech scraped a losing bonus point. However, the honours went to Cantabs and we now top the table again, by a solitary point.
Bevan Whyte was named man of the match for his lineout work and his general work in gaining the yardage. Frankly, any of the forwards could have taken the honours; to a man they were awesome. The team never really let the Wisbech backs have the room to run at us, forced them into countless errors and in my view were the fitter of the two sides.
Both teams were a credit to the division, and both deserve to get promotion on this show. The return match at the end of the season will probably decide who gets the silverware; and 31st March 2012 should be date for your diaries.