Across the Fens to Wisbech for our last away fixture of the league programme and Cantabs offered our hosts the chance of a double header linking this league game to the Cambs Cup tie. The winner of the match was to take on Newmarket in the Intermediate semi-final; so all to play for.
Irish James, Bevan and Sammi were back in the squad for this game, but still no Dean James so Richard Kemp was retained at scrum half.
Wisbech kicked off downhill in front of a large and noisy home crowd lubricated and well fed by a pre-match luncheon. The home side were first to show and almost immediately Cantabs were penalised for not rolling away at the tackle and their No 9 kicked them into the lead from 30m out.
Some solid play from Irish with the boot and three successive wins at the lineout gave Cantabs some in roads, but suddenly Wisbech broke clear through their scrum half with some very direct running straight through our defence and the Fen men had a four man overlap on the left. Somehow a combination of Paul Graddage and some over elaboration from the Wisbech backs prevented the score in the corner. Cantabs were penalised yet again at the breakdown and from the resultant penalty, Wisbech moved into a 6 - 0 lead, with only ten minutes gone.
Dan Searle continued to tackle like a demon, but it was clearly a case of the Wisbech backs making all the running early on. Next chance of a score fell to Cantabs however, after some good approach work by the pack, retaining possession through five or six phases of battering from our front five. Wisbech this time were penalised at the breakdown and Ali kicked beautifully from 35m despite a strong cross wind, to make the score 6 - 3.
Another strong run from the Wisbech scrum half cut through our defence and their inside centre finished off the move with a try under the posts, which was surprisingly not converted. The home crowd volume had increased and the score had moved on to 11 – 3 after 20 minutes. At this point Wisbech were rampant and twice it needed last ditch tackles from Warren Cowan to prevent tries on either wing. Cantabs seemed unable to stop the red tide at this stage of the game and Wisbech threatened to increase their score. Meanwhile our scrum was performing well and Wisbech were finding our front row a handful. Clearly it was a case of keeping the game tight and tackling our way back into contention.
Wisbech increased their lead to eleven points after 30 minutes with another well taken penalty from 30m. Cantabs then traded penalties with a straight forward penalty from Ali bang in front and onside the 22 to bring the score to 14 - 6 after 33 minutes.
Almost from the restart Francois suddenly picked up a loose ball on the left wing on his 10m line, and sped forward releasing a perfect pass inside to the supporting Ali, who scored under the posts and easily converted his own try. Cantabs were back in contention, having weathered the storm at 14 - 13 on 35 minutes.
Wisbech came straight back at us and it took a last ditch tackle from Warren to prevent a score in the left hand corner. In his attempt to win the ball, however Warren was deemed to have entered the ruck from the side and the referee, perhaps influenced by a baying Wisbech crowd, pulled out a yellow card. Apparently his comment was that the card was for a foul too many. At that point Charles Osbourn pointed out that Cantabs had offended four times and Wisbech seven!
Our fourteen men held out with good defending of the penalty on our own line and suddenly broke clear through Paul Graddage who nearly got away on the right wing, but took play into the Wisbech half before being tackled into touch. Wisbech had the better of the last few minutes of the half but Cantabs managed to prevent further scoring up to half time.
Wisbech started the second half the stronger threatening to score on both sides of the pitch, but some resolute defending from Cantabs won the day. Warren rejoined the game and from that point it was a case of Cantabs battling away in the Wisbech half, taking full advantage of the slope and a helpful wind to push the Fen men back into their 22 time and time again. Wisbech it was who broke clear to score first in the half, with another penalty centrally on our 22, and despite the game swinging back to Cantabs, the score had widened to 17 - 13.
Great scrummaging from Cantabs won the ball against the head, and generally our scrum had caused Wisbech to front row to stand up time and time again, without penalty. But suddenly we had been penalised twice by the referee for exactly that offence when the Wisbech scrum was in total disarray.
All the pressure was from Cantabs twice we broke clear with our inside centre then right wing kicking ahead to no effect. Rich Ford was beginning to take the ball at No 8 on our scrum more and more and the forwards were making ground only to lose the ball at the death. Cantabs were not giving up, and it was now desperate defence from Wisbech that was keeping us from scoring. In the last five minutes the tackles were getting more desperate as Wisbech fought to deny us in their own 22. Twice we turned down penalty kicks to push them back in the corner, only to be denied. We won a lineout 15m out on the right, which the referee called as last play. Bevan soared to take the catch, and the half backs moved the ball along the line. Ali came in at speed on the left, flung out a last ditch past to his winger, Francois, who stooped to catch it, only to see it slip away from his grasp.
Game over; one that got away from us somehow, and the Fen men celebrated their first win against us in four attempts. Wisbech went safe in the league with this win, and move onward in the Cambs Cup. Cantabs have two home games left against league leaders Norwich next week, then Sudbury the following week. Two wins should secure us fourth place, two wins will retain our unbeaten home record.