Cantabs 2nd XV made the short journey to the edge of the Cottenham Fens for the tough encounter against unbeaten Renegades. Danny James, Ed Kirkham, Owen Lewis, Josh Schmidt, Harri Beasley and Ben Tozer were back from 1st XV action the previous week and so a strengthened squad looked to give Renegades a run for their money.
Cantabs kicked off towards the college in near perfect rugby conditions, with a softened pitch from the overnight rain. The first two scrums went against the head, and the early running was made by Renegades with their centres looking to run at Cantabs, who held firm under pressure.
Seven minutes on the clock a promising Renegades move was halted by a great tackle from Nat Higgs but the referee blew for offside and the Renegades Captain slotted home the kick from the edge of our 22. 3 - 0 to the Gades.
Renegades continued to make the early running but a succession of handling errors gave our scrum a chance to impose itself on the opposition. Then the red mist descended on Danny James who was provoked into a punch right in front of the referee. For some reason a certain red card appeared as a yellow and Danny disappeared from the action for 10 minutes. The Cantabs scrum was changed to a penalty against and we were lucky that the score was unchanged as the Renegades captain pulled his kick to the right of the posts.
Harri Beasley was very close to making an interception, and Cantabs appeared to threaten at last. It was Beasley again who made the next break on the left bursting through a couple of tackles before being halted. Yet another run from Beasley following a backs move brought Cantabs into the Renegades 22 for the first time. The home side were caught offside this time and Josh Schmidt levelled the score to 3 - 3 from the edge of the 22. Game on!
After the restart Josh kicked from our 10m line to the right hand touch on the opposition 22. Renegades now knew they were in a game. The two sides were tackling well and no quarter was given, At this stage the Cantabs forwards were winning all the scrums but the Gades backs were looking dangerous on the break and utilising their No 8 in an attempt to drive holes through the middle. However, our tacklers were up to the task, and It was Cantabs that went close to scoring next with an attempted drop by scrum half Owen Lewis which just missed to the left. A chastened Danny James was restored to the game.
Cantabs scrum was putting the Renegades pack under huge pressure, on their own ball, but their No 8 somehow seemed to come out with the ball amidst the flying feet. Then from a ruck, Martin Wisbey came off worst from a contact with Ed Kirkham’s knee and hobbled off, to be replaced by Tim Fitzmaurice. Another great backs move initiated by Ben Tozer just failed to get Paul Graddage away on the right; the cover defence shepherding him into touch.
Ren Pesci the Gades hooker then powered out of defence and it took four tacklers to finally drag him down. But this seemed to spur on the fen men as they moved back into our 22 and after three or four recycles were now threatening the Cantabs line. We had the put in at the scrum 10 metres out from our posts. We appeared to win the scrum, but were called back by the referee who awarded Renegades a penalty. Rolando Pesci, the opposition scrum half needed no prompting, a quick tap and he darted through a non-existent defence to dive over under the posts. No problem for Renegades captain Baz, so the score moved to 1 - 3 just five minutes before halftime. Cantabs had been making all the running, but were suddenly behind again.
From the restart, Paul Graddage danced down the left wing, but his kick ahead was swallowed up by the Renegades fullback. That was the last action of the half.
Justin Standbridge was introduced for Ed Kirkham who had taken a knock. Renegades started the half the better, and Cantabs were soon camped on their line defending as though their lives depended upon it. Renegades were finally penalised for not releasing, only a couple of metres out from our line, and Josh kicked us clear. Paul Graddage was the next to threaten with a diagonal run which started on the left wing and ended on the right wing. Renegades were defending well and cleared the danger well with a great kick from their flyhalf right up to our 22. It looked to be going out, our defender certainly thought it was but suddenly the ball bobbled and the Renegades right winger, Lloyd (ex Cantabs), collected it unopposed and broke clear to touch down at the posts. Another straight forward kick for Baz, and it was 17 - 3 at 50 minutes.
Cantabs went straight back on the attack. Owen kicked over the defenders and hacked the ball forward to find touch inside the Renegades 22. The pressure was now on the home side and we won a 5m lineout following a Josh poke into the corner. The ball was won by Cantabs but knocked on in contact, 5m scrum to Renegades was won against the head. Owen collected the ball and dived over for a try. This one Josh failed to convert but Cantabs were back in it at 17 - 8.
Cantabs continued to press with some intelligent kicking from Josh pushing back Renegades into their own 22. Next casualty was the loss of Rolando Pesci for Renegades, but this seemed to gel them into action and a succession of penalties culminated in a shot at goal from 25m. Baz did the job again and Renegades breathed easier at 20 - 8. Mark Flaxman made a great saving tackle to stop another Renegades try.
A well struck kick from a penalty found touch 10m from our line. The lineout was caught by Renegades, Cantabs stepped back as the throw was caught by their No 4, The maul formed unopposed, as Cantabs were expecting a whistle for no binding. No whistle came, so a last ditch attempt to halt the maul came to nothing. Renegades went over for their third try and despite protests to the referee, the try stood. The conversion missed for once, but with only five minutes left on the clock the game was effectively over at 25 - 8. Baz had yet another chance with a penalty attempt from 30m, which also missed. Beaky joined the game in a cameo for the last few minutes, and by now it was Cantabs defending desperately to prevent a further score. Tim was replaced by a recovering Wizzer for the last throes, but that was that; no further score.
The Renegades No 8 told me that the game was the toughest that Renegades had this season, So some consolation for our lads. Were it not for two soft tries it could all have been so different. Full marks to the pack, for putting the Renegades scrum under pressure they had not experienced so far this season. I thought Owen Lewis had a very good game at scrum half and for me he was man of the match for Cantabs. Josh kicked very well, Harri and Paul showed their class with ball in hand.
Renegades knew they had been in a game, and Cantabs should be looking forward to the return fixture.