Cantabs started off their trio of local derby's this week by facing Shelford IVs. Unsure whether the pitch at The Davey Field would be playable, we got a call on Saturday morning to say the game would go ahead as planned and we made our way down to the bottom pitch to be met by a total mudbath.
With a surprisingly large number of players unavailable, the call was made mid-week to call off our third team game so that we could ensure we had a full squad for this match.
In conditions like we faced on Saturday, it was clear that tackling and discipline would be key, however during the first ten minutes we had not switched on - we allowed Shelford to run at us and gave away 4 or 5 penalties. Shelford capitalised on this, and got the first score in. However, not too long afterwards, Cantabs managed to move the ball wide and find full back Alex pacing down the left wing at the half-way line. He made his way past a couple of players and continued his sprint to the far corner for our first try of the game.
Cantabs scrum this week was absolutely dominant. Time after time we sent the peacock pack running backwards, Shane teaching his opposite number Arnold that you can't get away with being all balk and no power any more - not that this stopped him whining for the whole game. Denman was gifted a small boy to prop against - who did not last long on the pitch. However, despite the solid platform, we seemed unable to cross the opposition line. Chik and Robbo were running hard and breaking tackles, but for the first half the Shelford defence managed to stop us getting over again - they did a good job of turning us over at the breakdown (or convincing the ref to do it for them) Twice before the break Shelford took advantage of the possession we had allowed them and scored - leaving us thinking about our tackling game as the ref blew for half time - 17-5 to the home team.
Having refocused, Cantabs kicked off the second half into a heavy wind which seemed to be growing stronger and stronger. Within the first few minutes of the half, we found ourselves on the attack - Denman in the open field, to Shane, to Flax who storms up the left wing. We recycle the ball and move it quickly wide. With ball in hand, Alex finds himself running out of space and puts in a brilliant grubber kick for Paul to chase. Winger Graddage collects the ball and scores the touch down - the positioning and the wind denying Lovett the extras.
With our tackling and rucking tightened up, we stopped Shelford making any progress through our defensive line, so they changed their game to a kicking one. With the wind behind them, any possession they got was kicked deep. This was not too much of a problem as our line out was functioning well - as it has been the last few weeks with Mikey throwing in and Toby jumping at the front. We did not lose a line out and turned over a couple of the opposition balls. With this platform, we spent a lot of the second half running back at the opposition, trying to find a way through.
In conditions like we played in on Saturday, it is inevitable that there are going to be dropped balls, lazy running and plenty of stoppages. This meant lots of scrums and line outs, but despite our advantage at the set piece, we struggled to find a way through. Finally a move between Josh at 9 and winger Paul wing paid off and Graddage weaved his way through for his second try of the game - leaving us 2 points behind and hungry for a win.
For the last 15 minutes, Cantabs played all the rugby - Shelford had gone super defensive. With the wind stopping any chance of kicking any of the penalties we were awarded, we were forced to run at the men from Shelford. From Shelfords errors we were gifted three scrums in the opposition 22 during the last 5 minutes, but as hard as we tried we did not manage to get the final points on the board. The score at the end of the game - 17-15.
Shelford had a couple of quality players - their fullback Woodgate kicked and ran well, and seemed out of place in this 4th team. A few of our players and supporters were surprised to see St Ives top scorer Ashbridge representing the peacocks (although not surprised when he scored twice) but we will leave it to the league officials to investigate that issue.
Man of the match could have gone to a number of players - Josh stepped into the scrum half role very well, Nat played an absolute stormer and Alex, who has been getting better and better each week, really showed his class. However, the credit goes to Henry Pattinson - who stepped up from playing for our 3rds and made his way all over the park - running with ball, supporting the play and tackling non stop.
Given the conditions it was a top game of rugby, but overall a disappointing visit to the peacock farm - we left the field having played the better rugby, but knowing it means nothing without a W.
Next week we face Cambridge Exiles at home, another big game for our 2nd team.