The last league match of the season was the visit of Sudbury to Sedley Taylor Road. Sudbury had inflicted our worst league defeat of the season last December at 26 to 8. The Sudbury supporters were out in force and boasted one of their best teams of the season in an attempt to stop our unbeaten run and avoid relegation. It was clearly going to be a case of their young backs against our powerful pack. Only one change in the Cantabs line up; Paul Graddage was suffering from tonsillitis, so Dan Searle returned to the side and started on the left wing. Good to see that Dean James and Isaia Barbieri were on the subs bench after a month out of action for both of them.
On a lovely spring day with warmth in the sun and a perfect playing surface, Cantabs kicked off towards the railway, and the men in blue and white lined up on the right hand side; Irish James promptly kicked to the left, where a surprised Sudbury forward promptly spilled the catch. An early chance for the Cantabs scrum, which engaged drive and had the Sudbury pack skidding backwards at an alarming rate; a clear pattern for the afternoon.
Cantabs moved towards the opponents 22 where Bevan knocked on, the resultant scrum to the away side produced the same result, such that the referee awarded Cantabs a kick from the edge of the 22, which Ali promptly kicked through the posts. Less than 5 minutes gone and it was 3 – 0 to Cantabs.
During the first quarter of the game it was a repetitive sequence of Cantabs pack dominating in the scrum and the lineout, where Bevan showed great catching skills and allowing hooker Charlie Searle to loop round the back of the line taking the ball into contact. Time and again Sudbury were penalised at the ruck for coming through the side, and scrum half Richard Kemp was getting battered by their back row. From another massive shove on our scrum, Ali was put clean away, and with his customary gliding run and hand-offs he went through from our 10m line to their 22. When seemingly clear on goal, for some reason he passed out left, straight to their winger.
A combination of intelligent kicking and good backs play from Sudbury brought them well into our 22, but some great defensive tackling from Cantabs and a poor lineout from Sudbury gave us possession and the chance to kick for touch and safety. Cantabs broke clear from the next lineout through Warren on the left close to halfway. He handed off four defenders in his usual rampaging run, then set up play for the next attack. Our forwards moved through a couple of phases, with Chris Walliker leading the charge with a rolling maul; the ball went to ground and Sudbury were again penalised at the
Ruck. Ali kicked the penalty, this time from 35m to make it 6 – 0.
Shortly afterwards it was Ali again weaving his way through their defence, only to get his pass away, yet again to the opposition. Our forwards were still rampant, but poor handling under pressure lost us possession and this time the Sudbury backs threatened with some great passing and running, only to pass forward on the left when the winger was probably clear. Our scrum did whet it had to, Richard Kemp picked up at the back and tried to run the ball back at Sudbury, only to be tackled high by one of their props, who was yellow carded. Warren then suffered an ankle injury following a tackle and had to be helped off the pitch. It became a double change, Barry Brown on for Warren and Dean on for Richard, and only 20 minutes into the game.
Irish pumped the ball way down the pitch, and unfortunately for the Sudbury full-back it was Sami that he encountered first on the edge of his 22, whilst trying to break clear. Sami wrapped him up in a Fijian hug, which was seemingly not appreciated by one of the Sudbury players and his chat to the referee, promptly awarded him with a ten minute break; so Sudbury were down to 13. The resultant penalty was easily converted into points by Ali; 22 minutes gone 9 – 0 to Cantabs.
Cantabs now looked to dominate with a big numerical advantage, but some poor handling meant that Cantabs failed to make this pay. It was Sudbury that looked the more threatening. First we were penalised for holding on just outside our 22, and Sudbury had a chance to get points on the board, but the kick shaved the left hand post and stayed out. Then they broke twice through the centre, with some good backs play, were denied the first time, but regrouped and broke clear again to touch down under the posts. The kick was converted and it was game on at 9 – 7, with 32 minutes gone. Sami limped off, with damage to his heavily strapped knee and Isaia joined the fray, moving to prop. Jonnie going to back row and Luke Munby moving to wing to allow Francois in at Centre.
All the changes did not unsettle the pack one jot as at the next scrum, Sudbury stood up, stopped binding and Cantabs, through Ali, kicked the ball straight and true to make the score 12 – 7. For the last five minutes Sudbury were restored to a full compliment of players; their supporters were getting frustrated with the referee, but their players just kept being penalised in their attempts to stop our forwards progress. However, it still took a great tackle from Dan Searle to stop the Sudbury backs. Every time they were able to run the ball they looked dangerous.
At the start of the 2nd half, surprisingly Sami rejoined the action, Luke Munby taking a break. A high kick out of defence from Dean was fumbled by the Sudbury full-back. Sami, was soon in the action, blasting through a couple of flailing tackles, supported by Rich Ford to make it to the Sudbury 22. Dean was now enjoying his role, with a couple of little grubber kicks pushing the Sudbury backs into their 22. Our lineout stole the ball and we shipped the ball from the right wing right out to Dan on the left but he just failed to gather the ball. The resultant scrum to Sudbury in their own 22, was recovered under extreme pressure from our pack, by their No 8 who somehow got the ball away to their right winger, who made fifty metres before being tackled into touch on the Cantabs 22. Sudbury pressed hard and Cantabs, and Isaia, were penalised for a deliberate knock on; our Italian prop taking a ten minute enforced break. Sudbury went for the corner and won their lineout; at which point Cantabs gave away another penalty. Sudbury elected to tap and go, when a kick for goal was the easy option, and our forwards forced the error. A let off for Cantabs, but yet another warning that the game was far from won.
A great catch and drive following Irish’s penalty kick to halfway, allowed our forwards to demonstrate their power, but Perksy suffered a knock to his damaged knee in the process, to add to the concern being felt on the sideline. The referee then reached for his yellow card yet again to reduce Sudbury to 14 once more, much to the annoyance of their vociferous support. Another great tackle from Dan on their right winger saved the day again for Cantabs, and the ball was knocked on in the process. Predictably, the Cantabs scrum produced another penalty, and Ali rapped the post from 40m. The ball flew out to the edge of the Sudbury 22, where Cantabs gobbled it up and went into ruck mode. Francois picked up the ball on his right wing, jinked inside two tacklers and went to ground on the Sudbury 22. We set up the play, but again Cantabs passing through the backs was just not up to par. Dan Searle was clear on the left but the final pass was lacking.
Sudbury then broke clear from well inside their own half and it took a gigantic tackle from Ali right under his own posts to prevent the try. Somehow we cleared the danger, but Sudbury came straight back at us with a run from their inside centre, who had an overlap to the left, but failed to get his pass away. The writing was definitely on the wall fro Cantabs as the gaps were being exploited by the Sudbury flying backs.
Cantabs it was who had the next chance to score but Ali’s kick for goal from 40 metres faded to the left of the posts. Sami it was that broke through the middle yet again, still moving forward with three tacklers clinging to him. He managed to set up the ruck and Perksy forced a whole through the first line of defence, secured by Jonnie and Chris. Sudbury penalised again at the ruck and Ali had the easiest of kicks to make it 15 – 7, with 20 minutes left to play.
Sudbury were now opting for lineouts on any crooked throws, such was our dominance in the scrum. Cantabs pushed play into the Sudbury 22, and Bevan soared high to take the ball on their lineout, but somehow the Sudbury back row won possession back, and suddenly their left winger was breaking out of his own half. He avoided three desperate attempts to tackle him and raced in under the posts. Game on again, simple conversion made, and the score was 15 – 14 with 10 minutes left on the clock.
From the restart, Cantabs pushed the Sudbury side back into their 22. We won yet another penalty from a collapsed scrum and went for the corner. This time it was Sudbury who stole the ball in the lineout, moved the ball back to their flyhalf behind the try line. Instead of kicking clear he went for the pass out to the left to his supporting centre. But the pass was clearly forward and Cantabs had the put in at the scrum on 5m. Inevitably, Rich Ford held the ball in and the scrum proceeded forward until we reached the try line. Richard says he had everything under control but it didn’t look so to the Cantabs faithful or to Dean, who scooped the ball up and dived over for the score. Ali converted making the score 22 – 14.
Sudbury then went all out in the last five minutes to gain a bonus point. They were camped in our 22, and Cantabs were defending as their lives depended on it. However a succession of penalties for off side, finally wore down the men in blue and for the third time in the match Sudbury touched down under the posts. Easy conversion but it was the last play of the game and the last kick of the season for Cantabs. Final score 22 – 21; too close for comfort and the best any visiting team had done at Sedley Taylor road in the last two seasons. All credit to Sudbury and their faithful supporters. If their team can play like this next season, they will certainly be in contention at the other end of the division.
For Cantabs, it just did not happen on the day, but our unbeaten run at home continues; now stretching back to October 2010, when Stowmarket beat us by a solitary point. Today luck was with us, for once after some very narrow losses away from home; and to finish the season in fourth place is no mean achievement for a promoted side. Congratulations to all 47 players who have appeared in the 1st XV this season.
At our subsequent 67th Annual Dinner, Players Player of the season was awarded to Charlie Searle, Ist XV Player of the Year was brother Dan. 2nd XV Player of the Year, Ben Tozer, 3rd XV Player of the Year Matt Shepherd and Most Improved Player Luke Munby. Mike Denman was awarded Clubman of the year.