Cantabs were back at Sedley Taylor Road for this encounter against Crusaders, a team that had ran us close earlier in the season in Norwich. A few changes to the team from the previous week, to ensure a strong squad was fully fit for Ipswich YM next week. James McCaughran and Francois Eve were still recovering from injury, Chris Walliker, Isaia Barbieri and Bevan Whyte unavailable until next week. The bench had plenty of experience however, demonstrating the strength of this year's squad.
Cantabs kicked off towards the railway in near perfect rugby conditions: a yielding pitch, a light breeze and a good crowd in spring clothing. The kick-off produced a scrum to Crusaders, and Cantabs pack soon announced their intentions with an easy wheel, then won their own scrum and Dean set off on the blindside, but promptly dropped the ball! This was the pattern early on Dean and Ali seemingly unable to hold on to the ball. Dean discarded his bandaging (broken thumb) and that sorted that problem. Then after three minutes we won a penalty on the 22m line for offside, and Ali slotted it home; 3 to 0.
A great flowing move followed, instigated by Ali, swapping passes with Ben Farmer on the left, he then glided into the 22, clear on goal, and dropped the ball to the amusement of the Crusaders spectators. Somebody close to me did say, let's hope for their sakes that Cantabs don't have the last laugh. Mr Sadler was also concerned that we were losing too much possession and said we had to be sure of taking a bonus point out of the game. He shouldn't have worried! We were all over Crusaders and Adrian calmed the nerves when he scythed through a non-existent Crusaders defence to touch down close to the posts. Ali made the conversion, ten minutes into the game and we were 10 to 0 up.
Crusaders then had their best period, throwing the ball about well in the young back line, but suddenly Paul Graddage broke away on the right wing, evaded a couple of tackles and was brought down by a last-ditch tackle inside the 22. Cantabs support secured the ball, Crusaders offended, and Ali knocked over another penalty; 13 to 0.
Cantabs were now looking dominant, Charlie Searle's lineout throw from just inside the opposition half went to the front, Mikey Goode took the ball, burst through the Crusaders line, slipped the ball back out to Charlie, then took the return pass and galloped inside the 22. From the resultant scrum, Cantabs won clean ball, Dean spotted a gap, and that was that; Ali converted to make it 20 to 0 after 25 minutes.
Crusaders had the next score, a great penalty kick from their No 10 from 35 metres wide on the left. The same player just missed minutes later from 40m and Cantabs ran the ball out from under their own posts, showing great confidence and handling under pressure. Play moved deep into the Crusaders 22, and our forwards took over; seven phases later it was Mikey Goode who took the ball over the whitewash for his first try for the 1st XV in only his second ever start. Ali somehow contrived to miss, from in front, in an attempt to avoid losing the ball on the railway. Score 25 to 3 after 35 minutes.
Then from another lineout on the right just inside the Crusaders half, Warren Cowan gained possession, passed outside to Drew, who made good ground, returned the pass for Warren to outpace and hand off the defenders touching down in the corner; too much for Ali, but the score now 30 to 3, and a bonus point to Cantabs. Virtually half time, but from the kick off, it was Warren who again made the break, passed inside to Tom Conder and in under the posts. Tom's first try for the 1st XV, converted by Ali; 37 to 3, and that really was half time.
Straight from the restart, Cantabs moved the ball deep into Crusaders territory but this time Adrian was stripped of the ball when trying to burst through again. Cantabs quickly won the ball back however and Dean James was next on the try list for his second, with a strong run from 20 metres out on the left. He made it easy for Ali's conversion; 44 to 3. The tries then came thick and fast, apart from the restarts Crusaders just did not gain any territory or possession to speak of; the men in green looked dejected. Ten minutes into the second half Ali ghosted through to touch down under the posts; 51 to 3.
Then lock, Tom Conder made it two tries, and a special day for him, with a powerful drive from 3 metres out! 58 to 3, following an award of a scrum to Crusaders on their 5 metre line, being inevitably turned over for the umpteenth time. Cantabs rang the changes, Sami on for Drew, Euan on for Paul. 2nd XV captain Mikey Goode was next to score, for his double, with a run from two metres out, Ali made it 65 to 3.
Dan Searle replaced Ben James, for a run out in the last quarter, and still the tries came. Captain Rich Ford started the move with a clean catch from Charlie's lineout on halfway, Warren took the ball round onto the blindside, in a well rehearsed move, and careered down the left wing, through one defender, through the next defender, and over the line, round under the posts. Score now 72 to 3.
Ali next to score, clear and away on the right and touched down under the posts to make it easy for himself; 79 to 3. Then from a scrum on halfway, Dean burst forward on the right, out to Euan, who went in at the corner. Conversion failed, but now 84 to 3.
Finally, a score for new father Sami, on the left with a typical Sami forceful run. This turned out to be the final score, a comprehensive win, our biggest ever in the league, at 89 points to 3, making our position at the head of the division even more secure. Thirteen tries, nine conversions and two penalties, to a solitary penalty. The crowd awarded Ben James the man of the match, it was flankers Ben and Jonnie and Rich Ford who put in all the selfless work to win ball in the loose, and set up possession for Dean and the backs. Our half-backs ran amok all afternoon, Crusaders were frankly poor.
But, a great performance from Cantabs, that shows it will take a good team to deny us the title this season. Next to try will be the conquerors of Wisbech, Ipswich YM, who come down to Sedley Taylor Road next week. Be there or be square, and let's see what we really are made of. Apart from Irish James the whole squad is available, so Steve Drawbridge has a hard job on his hands choosing who will be in the starting XV.