This was the first real test of the league season for Cantabs; away to 3rd placed Harlow who had narrowly lost to Sudbury the previous week. A number of changes to the team; Perks, injured back, was replaced by John Lineham at tight head. Sami Kididromo was back on duty at outside centre and Drew Tilley was making his first start of the season on the wing.
Dan Searle elected to kick up the slope and against the wind, and Cantabs were soon being put under pressure by the Harlow flyhalf’s kicks into the corner taking full advantage of a blustery wind. Our backs were struggling to hold onto the ball when we did venture into the opposition half and we were immediately pegged back by yet another long kick. From just such a kick over the defence Francois tried put Harri away, but his pass went loose, was hacked on by the charging Harlow backs, one of whom just beat Rich Ford to the ball getting the touch in goal to score to the right of the posts. The try was converted and Harlow were ahead after just seven minutes.
Cantabs did then get their act together with our scrum looking menacing. A win against the head allowed Cantabs to make ground, the Essex men were penalised for offside and Simon’s penalty kick was true from 25m; to make the score 7 – 3.
Cantabs were continually pushed back into their 22 with well-placed kicks from the No 10 and it required some vigilant defending to protect the line. When we did get the ball it was generally on our try line and we continued to try and run the ball out of the 22, rather than kicking. Our handling and support play for Dwayne’s runs was just not up to standard and time and again the Harlow back row punished the errors allowing their flyhalf to chip the ball back into our 22. Despite the defence Harlow eventually broke through two more times and the score moved onto 21 – 3 to the delight of the home supporters. Our plays seemed to rely on Dwayne too much and Harlow just put two men on him to stifle his runs. Finlay was now on for Simon Taylor and Drew moved to inside centre.
There was no further score and during the break Dan Searle and Dave Evershed were replaced by Fin Morrison and Ryan Bigland. The Harlow restart went straight out of play and Cantabs elected for the scrum on halfway. Aaron picked up at the base, passed to Dwayne, he beat his two defenders, ran out to the right, timed his pass beautifully to a flying Finlay, who dived over in the corner. Simple game after all; 21 – 8 with the conversion missing.
Cantabs worked their way back into the Harlow half with help of a penalty. Harlow were penalised at the lineout, Ben James took a quick tap, and Harlow were penalised for not retreating 10m. Somehow Jonnie Heaver was allowed to take another quick tap penalty and moved well into the 22. Dwayne picked up from the ruck and released Drew, who with a diagonal run from the right, sliced through the defence to score under the posts. Dwayne’s conversion kick struck the post and stayed out, but Cantabs were now at long last looking threatening with the score at 21 -13.
Harlow had the next opportunity to score with a kick from 24 metres that was hooked wide. We were now giving away too many penalties and when the next was awarded for holding on, it was right under our posts and the Harlow kicker made no mistake to stretch the lead to 24 -13.
Cantabs came straight back at Harlow from the restart, which Harlow allowed to make touch 30m out. From the lineout Dwayne again made the break and this time Francois was on his shoulder to take advantage, scoring close to the right hand post. Finlay took on the conversion and missed, but Cantabs were at least making a game of it in the second half at 24 - 18.
Aaron came off, Rich Ford was now moved to scrum half, and Dan was restored to open side with Ben James moving to No 8. But with our scrum dominant, and Harlow front row all standing up, strangely the referee penalised us! This gave Harlow the chance to widen their advantage with a well taken penalty from 25m, making the score 27 – 18.
Cantabs than had a great chance for a try bonus point when Sami broke clear to the left of centre, ran into the 22, with both wingers in the overlap to his left, failed to pass and was swallowed up by the full back. After that we did most of the threatening but to no avail. Shed was back in the game when Jonnie left with a damaged hip; but despite the last gasp pressure the next score would not come.
Great Harlow celebration followed as the referee blew for time, and Cantabs had lost their unbeaten record.
Man of the match for Cantabs went to Ben James, but could equally have gone to Rich Ford in my book. Harlow tied up Dwayne well for the most part and restricted our options, our backs just never got going and we made far too many handling errors, mostly forced by the Harlow back row it has to be said. Harlow made their kicks when it mattered, Cantabs missed theirs and in the end this cost us at least the losing bonus point.