Cantabs started the season with a win against West Norfolk, so it was rather apt that the same opponents were there at the completion of the league season. One more victory would give the 1st XV a 100% record, and would seal our Championship season in a very acceptable fashion. The Cambridge Referees Society kindly provided a full complement of officials to honour the occasion.
Irish James was back at Centre alongside Sami, having recovered from a broken hand in the Junior Vase semi-final. Mike Denman resumed in the front row. Francois Eve was absent in France, so Euan took over on the left wing. Jonnie Heaver was unlucky to find himself on the bench, having started every other league game and having played in all eight forward positions. Warren Cowan’s stitched eye (see Wisbech Citizen photo) had recovered, so Tom moved to the bench. Cyril making his first start since his operation made up the subs bench.
Fifth place West Norfolk were fielding a very young set of backs, with only one over 20, and as their guys said over lunch, it was going to be a case of whether their speedy backs or our forwards won the day. Rachel Forrest was referee, her first home appointment for our 1st XV.
Cantabs kicked off from the railway end with the wind at their backs, in front of a good crowd, many of whom had been fed and watered at our Ladies Day lunch. Adrian used the wind well and his first kick travelled 50m finding touch 10 metres from the West Norfolk line. However, their number 7 won the ball well, as he did throughout the match. It was our opponents’ backs that first showed their paces with some slick passing and running. Cantabs first scoring chance came after 10 minutes when Dean found Ali from a scrum 30 metres out, on the right. Ali’s usual blindside run was good, but his pass out to Paul on the wing was a little wild and the chance went begging.
Then on 15 minutes, Perksy started the move with a great driving run through the Wests defence, but he was held up over the line, From the resultant scrum, Dean took command and muscled his way over the line with a typical scrum half try. Ali made the conversion; and it was 7 to 0.
Dean had another great chance to score on the right but unselfishly passed the ball out to Paul, when he could have probably made the line. Paul was held up over the line, and somehow WN survived.
Predictably, the next score went to West Norfolk following a blistering run from their right winger from well inside his own half, following another spell of Cantabs pressure that came to nothing. The ball was shifted smartly left from our 22 line, and ultimately it was the left winger that ran in under the posts for a great score; 7 to 7 after 21 minutes. The ball was never seen again, as it easily cleared our netting; much to Martin’s annoyance. Game on and the visitors cock-a-hoop!
Then, just three minutes later, Adrian’s kick ahead was gathered by Dean. He moved inside the WN half on the right passed inside to a supporting Ali, who made ground before shipping the ball inside again to Irish James, who cut diagonally right again and finally dived over close to the corner flag. Touch judge Mr Vail gave our lady referee the thumbs up and we were on the way again. Ali’s kick from the right touchline, shaved the upright, but on the inside. Score was now 14 to 7.
Warren then seemed to get a bit too involved with their forwards, much to the annoyance of our visitors’ supporters. But they had to admit that their pack lacked a big nasty lock or two, and one got the impression they were a tad jealous. 28 minutes gone and WN tried to run the ball out of there own 22, once too often, encountered Mr Nasty and Warren ran in under the posts. Easy conversion for Ali this time made the score 21 to 7.
Cantabs continued to press with big drives from Perksy and Sami knocking holes in the West Norfolk defence. A rolling maul set up another couple of rucks for the forwards. Then Dean moved to plan B and whipped the ball out to Sami, who cut inside the defence then outside and crossed the line for a great score on the right. Another great kick from Ali wide out and we were well on top at 28 to 7. This, the fourth try brought about an academic bonus point.
No further score in the half and during the break, Richard Ford, suffering from shingles, gave Jonnie Heaver his chance of a half. But, it was Wests who got the score moving first with a penalty awarded 30 m out and central. Well struck to make the score 28 to 10 five minutes into the second half. The break had given our supporters the chance of liquid refreshment and they were now somewhat noisier and of good spirit. Perksy and Sami continued to blast their respective ways through tacklers, Chris Walliker, Charlie and Jonnie continued to set up ruck after ruck and Warren continued annoying all the Wests players and supporters. WN were pinned in their half but Cantabs had perhaps started to relax because there was no sign of a score. On a rare incursion into our half Mr Nasty was penalised close to our 10m line, Wests decided to discuss their penalty with “sir” and she promptly reversed her decision. Suddenly Cantabs were back on the opponents 22 and pressing hard again. Paul had a great run down the line, only to be brought down with a great tackle 15m out.
Further pressure from Cantabs released full-back Ali who sprinted clear of the defenders to score the fifth try, and then promptly converted to make the score 35 to 10. Chris Walliker, gentleman that he is, gave Tom Conder 20 minutes of action; sadly for Wests. Tom is even bigger than Chris. Wests substituted their No 8 with a neck injury and blindside flanker over the next ten minutes; Cantabs pack had done its job. With 15 minutes to go Cyril replaced Denman.
10 minutes to go and a Cantabs scrum on the WN 22m line saw Adrian move the ball neatly inside to Paul who scythed through non-existent tackles to dot the ball between the posts. Ali made it six out of six and the score moved to onto 42 to 10.
WN then lost their influential No 7, who had performed miracles in the lineouts and had been roughed up by Warren more than once. Dean then went on a jinking run from within his own 22, and when over half way, passed out to Paul who raced clear only to be denied by a last gasp tackle. However, Wests backs now got going again and it was the visitors’ full-back who deservedly scored an excellent try wide on the right following a slick series of passes along the line initiated with a lineout won wide on the left. The conversion was not made and the score was 42 to 15. There was no further score and when the whistle blew the Cantabs faithful gave their lads a well deserved accolade. Man of the match went to Ali, but again the pack was magnificent.
So finishes our most successful league season ever, with and average of just over 36 points scored by Cantabs per game compared with an average of only 9 conceded, over the 20 league matches. Now, just the County Cup final left to play for, on May 5th at Ely against Saffron Walden; a great chance to see just how far we have progressed with this squad. Everyone is committed to playing next season, or at least that’s what they were saying over glasses of champagne! Sadly the only black spot on the day was the beer running out; for this I can only apologise.