Cantabs were travelling again this week for the eighth time in twelve matches. This time, more local to Sudbury and apparently the last time our 1st XVs met Dennis Hart was at No 8. Our Opponents had reached the dizzy heights of the National League at their peak but were now languishing towards the wrong end of London 3NE. But their ground was anything but; completed three years ago after a developer took on the old site at a cost of well in excess of £1m.
Cantabs had many enforced changes to the starting line-up with Samisoni Kididromo, Warren Cowan, Jon Perks and Paul Graddage all unavailable. Dean James was back after a month’s absence at scrum half, however, so it was a practically a complete change of backs. Euan Fisher making his first start of the year back at fly half and Richard Kemp moving to the wing.
Cantabs kicked off at 3.00pm under lights – if you’ve got it why not flaunt it! The ball did not travel the statutory 10m, so Cantabs had an early chance to test the Sudbury pack in the scrum. The early play set the scene, with Sudbury’s young backs soon opening the game up to take advantage of their large pitch. Our coaches had emphasised that we needed to keep it tight and play ten man rugby, unfortunately our side appeared not to have heeded this, and kept kicking the ball straight back to their backs. With only five minutes gone, we moved the ball into the opponents 22, but were penalised. Sudbury found touch, won the lineout and moved the ball wide to the right winger who easily made the line with our defence in tatters. The conversion failed but we were already on the back foot at 5 – 0.
Shortly afterwards, Dean showed the way, taking a quick tap and running straight at the Sudbury defence from just inside their half. He made the 22, Sudbury killed the ball in the ruck, and Ali slotted home the kick to make it 5 – 3.
Our backs then attempted to move the ball out to our right but the passing was high and behind the man, so all James Walton could do was try to hold on, and was penalised for not releasing. Their full-back took the kick from 30m out bang in front, 8 – 3, with ten minutes gone.
Richard Kemp then left the game after taking a heavy hit, with Ben Farmer replacing him. Cantabs then tried to take the game to Sudbury, making good ground with our forwards, but lost control of the ball in the ruck when in the Sudbury 22. The Sudbury flyhalf shipped the ball along the line to their left winger this time. He received the ball well inside his own half, evaded a desperate attempt at a tackle from Irish James, went through two further tackles and grounded the ball in the corner for a great score. Cantabs were looking shell-shocked, the kick failed but it was now 13 – 3.
Good forward play from Cantabs brought the game into the Sudbury 22, again the home side were penalised for going over in the ruck and Ali had a chance from 20m to the left of the post. This proved too much and then shortly afterwards he had an easier kick from just outside the 22, which shaved the post the wrong side, following a great shove from the Cantabs pack.
We were certainly dominating the scrums, making life very difficult for the Sudbury scrum half on his own put in, but somehow the home side seemed to get the ball away under immense pressure. This really was a match of our forwards against their backs, but consistently poor handling from Cantabs gave possession away.
Sudbury then put us under severe pressure with a combination of some slick handling and good positional play enabling them to take command at the lineout. Their man of the match, and outside centre went in under the posts, virtually unopposed, and following the conversion at 25 minutes the score was 20 – 3.
Cantabs somehow held on to finish the half, despite some very poor handling and passing, our scrum kept us in the game. I think all of the Cantabrigians watching had to agree that this was the worst half of rugby from the team for two seasons. We knew we had to keep the game tight, but consistently gave the ball back to the opposition with poor handling and desperate kicking.
Two substitutions at half time; Tom Conder on for Jonnie Heaver and Luke Munby replacing Dan Searle. To add to our misery the referee was regularly penalising us in the rucks; in fact he was hard on both teams in this respect but particularly so against the men in blue and white it seemed.
Sudbury managed to miss a fairly straight forward kick from a central position and we breathed again. The play was more often in the Sudbury half but our backs rarely threatened the line. Euan pushed a great grubber kick deep into the Sudbury half and there was a lot more purpose about the team, but Sudbury held firm. Again and again we were penalised for going over or handling in the ruck, and their flyhalf showed how to kick for touch. Rich Ford then took another blow to the head and had to leave the pitch, Jonnie Heaver going back on and Chris Walliker taking over as captain. Then, further anguish as Charlie Searle offended in the ruck, the referee had had enough, and he took a ten minute break. With a man short in the scrum, we lost some of our only strength, but the team continued to battle well. Sudbury then won another straightforward kick from 28m when we were penalised for the umpteenth time at the breakdown, now 23 - 3. Dan Searle came back on for Fraser.
Cantabs finally got their act together with a great break down the right, initiated by Dean, taken on by Irish, Ali and Isaia in support. We won the ruck, shipped the ball smartly across the field to the left wing where Ben Farmer easily scored in the corner. Ali was unable to convert but Cantabs were in with a slight chance at 23 – 8. The Sudbury faithful were a little concerned with ten minutes still left on the clock, but despite the pressure our fourteen men could not get close again. Dean received a dead leg in the build up and limped off the field; Richard Kemp bravely taking over at scrum half.
Charlie came back on a few minutes later and our scrum resumed normal service with Sudbury in disarray and finally penalised for their scrum breaking up.
However, Cantabs had not learnt and were penalised yet again at the ruck, bang in front of goal. Strangely their full-back missed, but intent on giving him another go, we managed to completely mess-up the 22 drop out by attempting a short grubber. One of our forwards killed the ball and the fullback wasn’t going to miss again; 26 – 8. The referee immediately blew for time and our lads trudged off.
Certainly a better second half in which we played more according to plan, and the Sudbury backs got nowhere close to our line. However, throughout the game we gave away, far too many penalties, and lost hard won yards in the process time and time again.
Next week we have a home game against local rivals Wisbech, and a Christmas Lunch to look forward to. Contact me without delay if you want to join in the festivities.