Well last week we won the league. We didn't do it in the most stylish way - Sawston couldn't get a team together and had to forfeit the fixture. It did however mean that the last league game we played was our fantastic result down at Walden, we beat the home team 13-0 and it was one of the best matches I've ever had the pleasure to be involved in. Huge congratulations and thanks to every player involved in the 2nd team's success in EC2 this year - everyone played their part. We will be in a promotion play off over the next couple of weeks.
So to the cup. Dare we dream of doing the dirty double? Of course we damn well do. We have won silverware the last two seasons, and in my third season as captain I am certainly not interested in making this 'third time unlucky'.
But what to expect this Saturday? We had heard all sorts of horror stories about the fixture the week before between Cambridge Exiles and Haverhill - played in good spirits but resulting in numerous hospitalisations. Would Cambridge call the cup game off? Well they hadn't done that so far... Would they turn up with a bunch of ringers? Upon arrival it was hard to say, but it didn't seem that way - although they did look decidedly young and fit. It didn't matter too much to us, we were on a roll and we would do what we did best to win this game - keep the defence too tight for anyone to break through and let the quality within the team bring the tries in their own time.
Kick off came and the conditions were pretty good, hard underfoot but the wind was light and the sun was out. We kicked off and immediately put pressure on the Exiles. It looked like we were set to make a storming entrance to the game, but in the end our exuberance let us down. In the first 10 minutes we must have given away 5 or 6 penalties - each one losing us a little bit of possession and eventually we were standing on the try line watching their kicker lining up for an easy three points. I guess the pressure got to him, or maybe he lost his footing because he sliced the kick just wide.
Time to get some points of our own on the board. From the restart Cantabs worked their way up the pitch and into the opposition 22. I'm not sure quite how the ball ended up in touch, I think I was on the floor at that point, but when I looked up I saw Chris Kelly with the ball in hand who spotted Dave ready to pounce. The quick lineout throw passed half a dozen players on the way to Daves hands, but no line had been formed and by the time anyone realised what was going on, Cantabs' quick thinking had earned them their first try. Lovett slotted the extras. 7-0.
Not too much to say about the next points. Exiles gave away a silly penalty, we decided it would be smartest to increase our lead and once again Christopher Lovett bisected the uprights. 10-0
Cambridge had some quality in their team. Their captain and no. 10 played a stormer all game and their 9 was pretty skilled. What they didn't have however, was any cohesion. In their back line balls were being spilled left right and centre. If ball was kept in hand they were met by a very solid blue and white defence - Thom Marx in particular put in an exemplary defensive display. At the breakdown they were greeted by the 6 foot 4 pain in the arse that is Justin Standbridge - he just seems to disrupt everything and steal ball he has no right winning. And anything they kicked just found its way to our back 3. Chris West was phenomenal at fullback this week, his kicking from hand was gaining us all sort of ground and his smart thinking was allowing Paul and Chris to take the fight right back to the exiles.
Cambridge had brought a couple of big lads with them this week, but it was no issue for us at scrum time. Tims hooking experience sandwiched between the artistry of Tozer and Myself upfront, the powerhouse of Nat and Justin and a decidedly heavy back row were making light work of the set piece. A few times we got the drive on and yet again Cantabs forwards were playing their part.
Next try came for the 2's living legend that is Ben Tozer. It was actually a huge privilege to have Paul Graddage back with us this week - returning from a hand injury sustained in our last encounter with Shelford. On this particular occasion I thought Graddage was going to go the whole way, having beaten 2 men already. Unfortunately though he was stopped 5 metres short. Not to worry, he looked round and found 2 of his trusty forwards in support. I remember seeing Ed's face light up as he thought the offload was coming his way, but somehow Tozer muscled in and found himself diving between the posts. By the time the offload had been put in, Cambridge had got a couple of guys back - one of whom was determined to stop this try. The poor feller flung himself forward to stop our prop from grounding, only to find his path blocked by the post. There was an almighty DONG as head connected with metal, followed a second later by the whistle awarding the try. Credit to the guy for getting up and playing on though. Oh, and another 2 points for Lovett. 17-0
Half time came and no changes were made - everyone was playing well and we didn't want to disrupt the flow.
As the second half got underway, it became clear that Cambridge were not going to get back into this game. Cantabs were playing smart and patient and Cambridge were tiring - unsurprising when you have players like Darren Carew running at you with the ball. Darren incidentally played the best game of rugby that he has done all year - his fitness, skill, attitude and patience have improved substantially since he joined us at the start of the season.
Next try came to Chris West. It came from a scrum about 10 metres out and was orchestrated beautifully by Gary 'The Guns "Sonny Sonnison" Nightingale. Having only recently returned to Cantabs and still settling into the scrum-half position, Guns has been a huge asset in these last few games. On this occasion he saw the space on the blind side and popped to Chris West who had come charging on. Chris had one man to beat, but on this occasion opted to go through him rather than around. A great try and a great conversion - 24-0
A couple of changes were made - Justin gave way to Tom Petie who was making his first appearance for the 2nd team this season and who came on and put in a top shift - adding another option to our line out and maintaining the power at scrum-time. And another 2nd team, and indeed Cantabs debut for Peter, who replaced Paul on the wing. Having recently defected from the peacock club, I am looking forward to seeing some great things from this Frenchman.
Final try came when we were awarded a penalty 5 metres out from the opposition line. As expected the big boys wanted to bosh it over - I think Darren had one go, and maybe someone else too. Cambridge stopped us scoring in this way, but not without giving another penalty away. Finally it was the cool and calm Tozer who listened to my screaming to spin it wide. He got hands on and sent it to the fly half who then moved it to our kiwi king Paul Pudney. Like so so many other times this season Paul smashed his way through the defence and dotted the ball down between the posts. Lovesy converted again...obviously - 31-0.
To nil Cambridge is a huge result for us. Our defensive militancy has been the key to our season, and this semi-final was no exception. It was a brilliantly enjoyable game to play in, and all the players would agree that having the support on the sideline that we did makes a huge difference - so thanks to everyone who came down.
I'm sure I've missed some bits out, but here are a few other mentions.
Ed Scott-Dickins was once again on top form - he made some proper crunching tackles and he is always doing exactly what he should be. Nat Higg played once of the best games that he has done all season, putting his body on the line and not doing any of that stupid 'Nat stuff'. Thom Marx tickled me...in defence was outstanding, but in attack I think he dropped pretty much every ball that came his way - just one of those days mate! Dave O Niell was once again quality, a raging bull with the ball in hand but a whippet off the scrum when defensive duties called. It was great to have Justin in the 2s - he was awesome... if only he would come to training. A big thanks to Tom P who made himself available last minute and to Pete who made sure players were fully hydrated.
Man Of The Match - There was a huge improvement since his last game in this position, and this week he just looked comfortable. For great kicking and a try to boot - Chris West.
Dick Of The Day - Keith for not turning up.