The last fixture of a memorable season was fittingly against Lowestoft & Yarmouth where it all started last September. The Suffolk/Norfolk men had run us close on that occasion and having triumphed over champions Sudbury in their last game; a difficult match was envisaged. Cantabs needed a bonus point win to gain promotion to London 2 for the first time in League rugby.
Jon Lineham was restored to 2nd row alongside Jonny Heaver. Rich Ford was back from his travels down under at No 8. The pack, otherwise, had that familiar look to it. In the backs Irish James (McCaughran) at full-back was playing his last game for the club, as was Samisoni Kididromo. In all eight of the starting 15 had been in the 1st XV when we won Eastern Counties 2 and Eastern Counties 1
With front row replacement Tom Bailey, 2nd row Kenji Caprice and the speedy winger Paddy Carson on the bench, one had a feeling we had the firepower to do the job. L&Y for their part had the much travelled Mark Thompson at No8 (ex Eastern Counties and North Walsham captain), and had brought along plenty of vociferous support.
The opposition kicked off, with the wind, towards the clubhouse in front of a large crowd. First scrum of the game followed our knock-on and our pack took the ball against the head with no trouble at all. Cantabs moved into the opponents half with a penalty for offside and a second similar infringement gave James Hayward a kick at goal which he missed. From the 22 drop out Dean caught the ball and charged back at the defenders from his 10m line, nearly bursting through, but bringing our pack back into the action. L&Y were caught holding on in the tackle, Nick Denham took over the kicking and this time Cantabs were on the way at 3 - 0.
We knocked on the restart kick on the edge of our 22, but it didn't matter as we just shoved their pack straight off the ball and broke clear of danger. Clearly our pack were up for this one! This was demonstrated again at the next maul, with good ground being made before the maul was illegally dragged down. The penalty kick from Hayward brought us into their half and from the lineout, caught by Pete Collins, Cantabs broke down the right. L&Y were in disarray and fumbled the ball twice in their dead ball area. L&Y took that scrum against the head, but the clearance kick was charged down and Finn Morrison was in like a dart to touch down; 8 - 0 after 14 minutes.
A catch and maul shortly after the restart allowed Cantabs to break forward, but we knocked on. The referee objected to some advise from the opposition and awarded us a penalty instead. James found touch just inside the 22 on the left. Charlie Searle elected to throw to the front of the line, Isaia caught the ball on 5m and charged forward ten metres, Perksy took it on at the ruck and made the break, slipped the ball to Rich Ford on his shoulder who joyfully ran through for the try; classic forward play and we were at 15 - 0 half way through the half when Nick added the extra.
L&Y hit a lovely restart kick, aiming for their speedy scrum half, who did enough to distract our catcher. The scrum was no advantage to them however and Cantabs cleared the danger with a kick out of the red area. This time Rich Ford took the ball from the lineout and our maul raced the ball up-field. We cleared the ball to halfway but L&Y moved the ball wide and for once looked dangerous, winning a penalty on our 22. They decided to run it and looked to make the try line as our defence was caught out by the quick tap. Our defence held out and we broke well clear of the 22, only to be brought back into the 22 for back-chat. This time the opposition took the kick and they were finally on the scoreboard at 15 - 3.
Perksy set up the next move from the rolling maul breaking off the back to rampage forward, Cantabs pack was all over L&Y and Dean finally moved the ball to the left where we had a two man overlap. Irish James came into the line, took the ball at speed and scored to the left of the posts making the score 20 - 3 after half an hour of play.
The next try followed shortly afterwards, Sami made the break yet again in the centre, L&Y recovered to kick clear but the ball was again charged down. Hayward moved the ball out to the left and brought David Bloxsum into play out wide. Somehow he rounded two defenders close to the touchline and scored in the corner; 25 - 3 and the bonus point in the bag!
A scrum fittingly was the catalyst for the next try shortly afterwards. Rich Ford picked up at the base, the ball was shipped wide, Sami kept the move alive and we pulled the ball wide again to the left and this time Bloxsum could not be caught cutting inside the defence to score under the posts. Nick made no mistake with the conversion and Cantabs were away at 32 - 3.
We knocked on at the restart, won the scrum against the head and broke clear, this time Hayward went straight and hard through the middle for try number six under the posts; 39 - 3 after the conversion.
Half time came immediately afterward and for L&Y it would have been somewhat of a relief.
James Hayward's restart fell perfectly into touch and Cantabs stole the lineout. As usual Jon Perks took the ball on, Jon Lineham, Charlie, Jonnie inter-passed before the backs, moved the ball wide to the right. Some great hands with half the team involved and fittingly it was Sami who made the try in the right hand corner; score now 44- 3.
Mick decided to make some changes, with Rich Ford and Finn Morrison making way for Kenji Caprice and Patrick Carson.
Cantabs then probably relaxed too much as L&Y came straight back at us and fittingly their live wire of a scrum half made the break and scored to the right of the posts making the score 44 - 8. Dan Searle had some choice words of encouragement and normal service was resumed.
The restart kick put L&Y under pressure, Sami's tackle was awesome as they tried to break clear, and we won the kick for holding on. This time James went for the corner with a catch and drive anticipated. Somehow we messed up, they were awarded a penalty and Dan could not resist the tackle and was sin-binned for not retreating at the quick tap.
Tom Bailey was now on at hooker and Cantabs continued to make the scrums miserable for the L&Y front row. Dean was in his element as every scrum brought him into play. He took a quick tap from the edge of the 22, and wriggled and twisted his way through four tackles before being brought down a couple of metres out. Cantabs recycled switching the ball out to the right and so the pressure continued. We won a lineout on the right, Dean again went for the line, then with his way blocked he feinted to move the ball wide to the left, but reversed his pass beautifully back to the right where a grateful Jonnie Heaver took the pass and dived in for the try; 49 - 8.
Dan returned to the fold, Cantabs were now in complete control, with some great all round teamwork. We were dominant in all the set pieces, the mauling and rucking superb and now our backs, prompted by some lovely direct running from Sami were also enjoying the day.
We won two more scrums against the head, and then the try that brought the biggest cheer of the day. Perksy would say he was in his own half when he took up the charge. In my book it was 35 metres out, but this time he shrugged off two tackles as he went straight and true like a yellow bull, handing off the last tackler to dive in under the posts. His face was a picture as he took the applause. That try was the icing on the cake for our tight head after a truly wonderful season; 56 - 8 with Nick's kick.
Next try was created by a storming run from Sami, allowing Paddy Carson to score under the posts as he flicked the ball out to him, real celebration rugby now at 63 - 8 after the conversion.
Cantabs continued to tackle as they had through the entire match, a combination of mauls and rucks brought us back into their 22. Their No 8 and scrum half combined well to break back up-field, but Cantabs were relentless, pushing them back time and time again. Paddy Carson was finally put away to the right of the posts and selflessly passed out wide where James McCaughran was in support to seal a great Cantabs career with his second try of the match; 68 - 8 as Nick rapped the post with his kick. Kenji Caprice was getting really involved as he twisted and turned and bullied his way into the opposition half, and Cantabs were generally still pushing hard as the final whistle came to bring L&Y some relief.
The celebrations at the end were wonderful. Players from all three Cantabs teams kitted up and joining the huddle in a sea of yellow, blue and white shirts; and Shay Lettice's champagne sprayed liberally. What a day and what a season. Look out division 2NE here we come!