Cantabs made the 120 mile trip to Folkestone for the 3rd round of the Senior Vase competition. Our hosts ground was adjacent to the Eurostar Line but with netting twice the height of that at Sedley Taylor Road, even Martin Gooch would have no fear of a lost ball. Their facilities were second to none and with six senior men’s teams, three ladies teams, countless junior sides and enough pitches to accommodate them.
Cantabs had two changes to the starting line-up with Sami back at Centre and Isaia starting at prop. Mike Denman, Drew Tilley and Luke Munby were on the bench and coach Mick Jones was named as the fourth sub.
Kent seemed not to have the arctic conditions of Cambridgeshire and the sun was quite bright at times, with a light wind. Cantabs kicked off down the slight slope and our forwards soon had the opportunity to test the opposition’s scrum and found it gave ground to some gentle pushing. Warren was soon in the wars when one of the opposition took a liking to his testicles with more than a gentle touch. To her credit our physio was reluctant to get involved, and Warren then proceeded to do what Warren does best by getting involved at every opportunity thereafter.
The early pressure was from Cantabs with our pack dominating the scrum and doing well in the lineouts, but the backs were making rather heavy weather of it. Folkestone were clearing their line well with some great kicks into touch and their backs looked somewhat sharper than ours. After ten minutes of play, Cantabs were penalised on their own 22 and against the run of play Folkestone were suddenly 3 points to the good. Five minutes later it was the same story and another simple penalty from within the 22 doubled the score; 6 - 0.
Halfway through the first half Perksy limped to the touchline for treatment on his right knee and Denman took over at tight head. The Cantabs scrum continued to push Folkestone all over the place, and the referee was seemingly blind to the non-existent binding from the Kent men's back row. Our centres were battering the Folkestone line time and time again but to no real effect and it was James McCaughran's intelligent kicking that won us good ground. At this point we were finding it difficult to win ball on their throws, so their kicker just kept pushing us back up the pitch. Folkestone continued to look dangerous in the backs.
Cantabs finally got back in the game after 35 minutes, when following a kick to touch by Irish James and a lineout 15m out, which we lost, Denman shot through to challenge the flyhalf's clearing kick in the right hand corner. The ball skewed off his boot into touch next to the flag. We managed to gain possession from the lineout, and went into maul mode. Folkestone were penalised and perhaps the opposition expected us to call for a scrum. Scrum half Richard Kemp had other ideas, he took a quick tap and dived over from close in. Ali failed with the conversion but we were back in the game at 6 - 5.
No further score in the first half, and Drew Tilley came on for Finlay Wilson, who had taken a knock. Folkestone started the half the stronger with Ali first making a good clearance kick from his own 22, then Sami stopping the next move with a searing tackle. Our lineout now stopped functioning and their backs were looking more threatening. Warren showed his strength in the maul by wrestling the ball free and our subsequent scrum had Folkestone in complete disarray allowing Irish to make a good touch on their 10m line. At this point Denman gave way to a rejuvenated and patched up Perksy. Luke Munby took over at open-side from Dan Searle. Perksy soon had the opportunity to test his prop skills and we managed to take yet another scrum against the head 10m out. Our scrum did its job on the reset and Folkestone were penalised. Ali took the penalty from bang in front and made no mistake. 60 minutes gone and we were in front for the first time at 6 - 8.
Folkestone then had two attempts at goal from 40m following penalties for holding on in the tackle. To our relief both kicks just failed, but our lads then seemed to wake up and dominated the next passage of play, moving the ball through the backs well out to both wings. The cover defence from Folkestone held up well and the Kent men had the next chance to score when they broke free on the right and it took a great saving tackle from winger Paul Graddage to deny them a score right on the line, causing their winger to fumble and knock on. The five metres scrum did its job, Rich Ford held the ball in at the back of the scrum as we trundled forward with the opponents pack unable to stop the progress without offending. James' kick found touch outside the 22, we won the lineout and Ali made the break to set up the ruck well into the Folkestone half. The next backs move culminated in right winger Tom Skelton being tackled into touch 15m from the line. Rich Ford won the ball from their lineout, set up the maul, and then suddenly burst free to run over the line and sensibly touch down as close to the posts as he could. Ali made the kick, just!
But with only 5 minutes to go the score was now 6 - 15. Cantabs were then in complete control. The play moved out to the left this time with Paul Graddage just bundled into touch inside their 22. Perksy then had a great run down the same wing and was denied by a foot in touch. But again our lineout did enough, and the pack took the ball towards the Folkestone line. We won the penalty and elected for the scrum from 10m out. The scrum moved the ball further towards the line, but somehow their scrumhalf seized on the ball when it squeezed out on the blind-side. Folkestone protected their man and the ball, and their backs ran it back at us from their own line, avoiding all attempts from Cantabs to halt progress and scored the try of the day in the left hand corner. Their kicker failed with the conversion and the referee blew for time. Final score, 11 - 15.
Cantabs pack certainly won this one, Folkestone had no answer to our scrum.
A great day for the Club; for the third year in succession we have reached the Regional semi-final of a National Cup and we have to hope for a home draw as there will be no easy games from now on. Many thanks to the members of Folkestone for looking after us admirably in their fantastic clubhouse. Despite the long journey it is certainly a club we would wish to play again.
Back to league action next week, with a game under lights at Sudbury. The lads should be up for it after this win.