Cantabs made the trip down to Barnes for this Junior Vase Semi-final against Surrey 1 opponents London Exiles. Captain Rich Ford (skiing) and Sam Kididromo (second child arrived at 3.00 am that morning), were both missing. But a welcome return for fly-half Adrian Clague, and centre James McCaughran.
Barnes RFC kindly donated their 1st XV pitch for the game; this was in excellent condition and the game started in warm, bright sunshine. Cantabs acquitted themselves very well for the first 10 minutes or so. Our pack soon
announced their intention with a great win against the head in the first scrum. The game flowed both ways but it was clear in the line-outs that Cantabs were sadly lacking. After 15 minutes it was Exiles that got the scoreboard moving with a simple penalty from just outside our 22 for not releasing.
Exiles had a further chance to score, but missed a second penalty from 35m. But by now Exiles were dominant winning everything in the line-outs, and putting our backs under pressure with some confident running. Cantabs were penalised time and time again for their aggressive rucking, and after a second warning Warren Cowan was yellow carded. Although Cantabs held firm in the scrum with a man short, the pressure finally told as Exiles right winger teamed up to cut through on goal. He was stopped by a great tackle from Francois, but the supporting backs, were able to work the ball into a scoring position, 8 to 0 after 30 minutes.
Five minutes later Warren returned to the action, but our heads seemed down. The touch judge intervened, when Cantabs were awarded a penalty in their own 22, having been prompted by some vociferous home support. The penalty was duly reversed (reason not apparent to me), and from the resultant lineout on five metres, the Exiles backs worked the ball smartly out wide and scored at ease. The conversion made the score 15 to 0 and the referee immediately signalled the end of the half.
After the break, Cantabs seemed to get into their stride and pinned Exiles in their own half for long periods. Finally, Francois got some great service from our back line scooted down the left wing, rounded the cover defence and touched down close to the posts. Ali converted, and we were finally on the scoreboard, ten minutes into the half; 7 to 15.
Virtually from the kick off, with no apparent danger, Adrian tried to chip clear in his own 22. The kick was snaffled and Exiles ran in under the posts for an easy score. 7 to 22 and for a while our heads were down again.
As it happened it was the only time Exiles looked threatening during the whole of the second half. Now Cantabs were dominant and winning the odd line-out on our throw as well. Exiles just could not win a scrum, and the pressure told again half way through the second half when a good flowing move was finished off by Ben Farmer in the right hand corner. Ali failed to convert, but we were back in the game again at 12 to 22.
Cantabs continued to press, and there was some heroic defending by Exiles; the minutes were ticking by. Francois damaged a leg, and was replaced by Euan on the left wing. Mikey Goode came on for Isaia, Tom Conder added some more weight to the scrum, replacing Ben James, and Ben Farmer gave way for Drew.
The changes unfortunately were not able to change the result and the score was still 22 to 12 at the death. So Cantabs agonisingly lost again at the semi-final stage of the competition for the second year in succession. This was our first defeat after twenty games, and a bitter pill to swallow. Particularly so when we found out that James McCaughran had broken three bones in his hand and Dean James has also possibly got the same problem.
So, where did we go wrong? Exiles are a good team, no doubt about that, having only lost one game this season themselves and they had the luck of a home tie. The two and a half coach trip through the London traffic did not help. But, we seriously missed a line jumper, having had a torrid time in the lineouts, and very little good possession from that particular area. As Wisbech found to their cost last week, our Eastern Counties style seemed to be at odds with the Surrey officials. Our forwards were constantly penalised, and Dan Searle was called over at least six times to discuss problems with Sir. Our stockbroker opponents never once had that sort of problem!
As always the team gave everything, with a lot of very sore bodies on the coach back home.
Back to the league next week, and another trip to Southwold. We are second in the league now, one point adrift of Wisbech, who scraped home 18 to 17 at Harwich, but with a game in hand. Wisbech are away again next week at Ipswich YM; so two vital games next Saturday will have a big bearing on the season.