Second home match of the season was a big one. The visitors were top of the table Upminster, and our two year unbeaten home record was in jeopardy. Their No 8 was the man who was expected to do some damage and the training sessions in the week had emphasised that we needed to be in his face to negate his power. Wholesale changes in the Cantabs pack, with a completely new front five from last week, providing the required power for a large Upminster pack. James Walton moved out to wing and Finlay Wilson was back in the squad for the first time since his knee injury sustained at Norwich.
Following the heavy rainfall in the previous 24 hours the grass was very wet and the ball seemed to be like a bar of soap; with numerous handling errors from both sides in the first five minutes. Cantabs were on top early on but never really threatened until Dean James kicked centrally from halfway, followed up his kick, to find the Upminster fullback fumbling the catch. Dean needed no further encouragement; he scooped up the ball and powered over the line to the left of the posts. Ali's conversion was high and adjudged to have been wide, so after six minutes it was 5 - 0 and a perfect start for Cantabs.
Cantabs were soon on the offensive again when Rich Ford made a poor lineout his own by securing the tapped ball and forming the ruck. The Cantabs backs moved the ball out right, Adrian nearly found touch but all the opposition defence could do was to help the ball out of play on their own 22. That play foundered but Rich was setting a great example with a fierce tackle to win back possession, Cyril then took a bad knock and had to be substituted by Denman with Charlie moving to hooker. Dean brought Sami into play for the first time and his searing run split the Upminster defence, well supported by Irish James and resulted in Cantabs winning the penalty just outside their 22. Ali made the kick and after 18 minutes we were 8 - 0 to the good. Some wild passing rather ruined another great chance for our winger, but Upminster were hardly showing any attacking moves at this stage. Their big men were keeping our scrum at bay with all their moves seemingly dictated by their No8. However our tackling was as good as we have seen this season and their big lads were not making ground.
Dean then brought Ali into the play from a scrum; he made good ground down the right, the supporting ruck allowed Dean to chip the ball over the defence. The Upminster left wing spilt the kick and Jonnie Heaver was first to the ball, picked up and forced his way over the line to touch down five metres in from the corner flag. Ali made the conversion from out wide and with 22 minutes gone the score was 15 - 0.
Upminster then pressed for the first time following a great restart kick which we rather messed up under pressure. A series of penalties moved Upminster deep into our 22, but our pack was ready for their rolling maul from 10m out and James Walton cleared the danger with a great kick finding touch deep in the opposition half. Upminster were at this stage looking a little shell-shocked with Cantabs to a man tackling like demons and showing better fitness than their opponent's large forwards.
But it was Upminster who scored next. Cantabs knocked on ten metres from their own line. From the resultant scrum, it was inevitably their No 8 that picked up and moved right just getting the ball out to the diminutive right winger with his trade mark flicked pass. The winger easily avoided our tackler to score in the corner. 15 - 5 after 34 minutes.
The try seemed to galvanise Cantabs into the offensive again and Jon Perks had a great 25m run at their fullback, As the half closed we had another shot at goal which hit the post. The follow-up was non existent however and Upminster cleared as the whistle went for the end of the half.
Straight from the kick-off, Dan Searle caught the ball, and ran back at speed. From the ruck James Walton chipped, caught the bouncing ball and kicked again to find touch on the Upminster 22. The Essex men then produced their best move of the match, winning the ball from the lineout and ran the ball back at us. It needed a desperation tackle from Ali to halt their left winger on our 22. Cantabs were calling the changes in the second half; first Tom on for Jonnie, then Skeggs, Tom, Jonnie and Chris seemed to rotate for the last quarter dependant on the requirements of the pack. Tom was catching well in the line now as we finally got our lineout together, and our pack was also starting to dominate in the scrum as the Upminster pack tired. Their 8, 5 and 6 were trying to knock holes in our line but for the most part Cantabs were able to resist them. From a lineout in our half Tom caught well, Dean chipped ahead down the left, Finlay hurtled forward and met the Upminster left wing full on as he caught the ball. We won the penalty for holding on. It seemed that whenever we kicked into the half, Upminster did their utmost to hand us the ball back by poor gathering; so the kicks from Adrian and Dean just kept coming.
Charlie produced some great cover behind a very loose ruck and a bouncing ball; he rounded the play to the left at super prop speed and much to the consternation of Al Sadler then kicked ahead! As usual we gathered the spilled ball, Rich Ford hacked forward and a scrambling Upminster back was forced to touch down behind the posts to avoid another Cantabs try. Cantabs won the scrum with Upminster back-pedalling at speed.
Next move from Cantabs brought Ali and Dean into combo down the left. Dean passed to his right, but Dan spilled the pass when it looked easier to score. A maddened Dan Searle then flew into the next big tackle with the Upminster No 8, who though twice Dan's size, came out of it badly, leaving the pitch for the last 15 minutes. Cantabs were now well on top and a rampaging Irish James put the Essex team under all sorts of pressure with a diagonal kick from the right touchline, as he was about to be tackled, deep into the Upminster 22.It was Adrian's kick over the defence that next caused the Essex backs to panic, and we won the penalty 32m out. Successfully taken by Ali and with under 15 to go it was 18 - 5 to Cantabs.
Another kick ahead by Sami again caused Upminster to hold on and from the place kick and lineout, Upminster were forced to touch down behind their line. The scrum was solid; Dean moved the ball out to the backs where Ali and James Walton combined to bring Sami into play inside. There was no stopping the Fijian from three metres out, touch down in the right hand corner. Ali's conversion was perfect; 25 - 5 with less than two minutes to go.
From the deep restart, Dan Searle caught the ball shipped to Adrian, the ball went through all the backs out to Sami who raced 40m forward into the Upminster half, before passing out perfectly to a supporting James Walton on the right wing. No mistake this time, great score in the corner, and a fantastic team try. That was that, with Ali's conversion just scraping the outside of the right post. The referee blew for time; final score 30 - 5, with our first bonus point of the season for that fourth try.
Best performance of the season from Cantabs; we move up to 5th in the league with this win and will have posted a warning to all the clubs in this Division that thay can expect a tough game from us.