Cantabs entertained local league rivals, Saffron Walden, for the first time in over 20 years; the match having double interest as it also counted as the first round of the Cambridgeshire Senior Cup.
One change in the Cantabs pack gave Dave O'Neill a run at No 8 with Pete Collins moving to the bench. At scrum half Dean James had reported fit for the first time in this campaign and vice captain Nick Denham and David Bloxsum returned to the back line.
Also on the bench were New South Wales pair of Keegan Evans and Toby Carver, who had become accustomed to serious rain over the last week or so since they had arrived.
The wet week had made the pitch soggy, but as the game kicked off the sun was trying to break through. The first scrum saw one of the Walden props limp out of the game. Cantabs then made the first serious in-roads into the opposition 22 and captain Jon Perks made the break through the defence and Cantabs won the penalty 5m out. Dean James wanted no better opportunity and in true Deano style did not disappoint, took a quick tap, and muscled the ball over for the first try. James Hayward added the extra two points; 7 - 0 to Cantabs after three minutes.
Saffron Walden came back immediately with some slick inter-passing running the ball out from their own half and completed the move under the posts virtually unopposed. The ball disappeared under a train; Cantabs were 40 pounds worse off and the game was level at 7 - 7. Two very contrasting styles of rugby but Cantabs needed to heed the warning and keep the game tight.
The game was now just five minutes old, and a head injury to our fly-half saw James helped from the pitch and he was eventually encouraged to make the short journey across to Addenbrookes suffering from concussion. This heralded a complete reshuffle of the Cantabs back line. 19 year old Toby Carver was brought in at No 9, Dean moving to inside centre and Nick Denham took over at fly-half.
Nick was soon to try out his kicking boots, first a lovely kick from hand making 30 metres on the left. This was soon followed up by a penalty from 35 metres out which went through the middle to give Cantabs the lead at 10 - 7.
Then Walden showed just what they could do, attacking down the left. Francois was pulled off his wing, by the outside centre, he timed his pass beautifully to the supporting left winger who outpaced Bloxsum to run round and score close to the posts. Another 40 pounds disappeared towards the town centre this time under a Liverpool Street train. Worse still Walden were now in front for the first time at 10 - 14 after 15 minutes.
Walden then pressed hard again, being awarded a penalty on 5m in the left hand corner. It took some stout defence to prevent a further score, but at close quarters Cantabs were a match for their opponents and finally Nick's clearing kick moved us out of our 22. Stu Williams was catching superbly at either 2 or 4 and Cantabs maul was bringing the yardage for our pack. In the scrum and lineout, Walden had little answer, but in the loose time and again Cantabs failed to clear out their back row and the number of turnovers mounted.
A crooked feed into the scrum was the catalyst for another Walden attack down the right, but again Cantabs withstood the assault. Then a hack out of defence from Walden down the same wing brought huge dividends as Cantabs were forced back into their 22. Tom Bailey was adjudged offside too often and was yellow carded We had no answer as Walden stretched their lead with a try into that corner; this time unconverted, but bringing the score to 10 - 19.
At the next scrum, Mick was forced to bring on Keegan Evans at hooker, the Aussie's accustomed role, and Ben James was sacrificed.
David Bloxsum had a good run down the left into the Walden 22, but was penalised for holding on in the tackle, when our support was not up quick enough. Walden wasted the penalty by knocking on in their attempt to run the ball back and Cantabs were in the ideal position with a scrum 15 metres out to the left of the posts. That one came to nothing and Walden broke at speed down their left, this time it took a great tackle from Charlie Searle to stop the left winger. Then Francois was put away on the right wing but was tackled a couple of metres out near the corner flag. Cantabs won the ruck and finally the penalty. Nick kicked for the 5m lineout. Stu Williams caught the maul formed and Walden had no answer as Dave O'Neill took advantage of the Cantabs pack strength to score his first try for the 1st XV. Ben James was restored into the pack with Tom sitting it out on the sidelines. Nick was unsuccessful with the conversion from out wide, but we were back in the game at 15 - 19. We had a further chance to level the game when again Francois went close in the same corner, but that was it for the first half.
Walden started well in the second period and made good ground with a deep kick into our 22. Walden then asked for the scrums to go uncontested, but when told that they would have to drop a player, decided to play on with a full 15. The writing was on the wall however. Cantabs cleared well and moved down the right wing well themselves. Stu Williams again was winning all our lineout ball and our maul was adding yardage.
Again Walden moved the ball out wide to their flying left winger and Francois tackled to win the lineout inside the 22. Mick took Charlie off and Pete Collins got his chance. It was Pete who won the ball from the lineout deep inside our 22, but an errant pass from Toby saw Dean scrambling to touch down in goal, giving Walden a 5m scrum. The scrum collapsed on Isaia's side, the referee allowed play to continue, and Cantabs had no answer as Walden ran round the blindside to score; 15 - 26 with half an hour left. There was then a long break in play as Isaia received treatment, but his game was over. Charlie came back on at prop and Tom moved to 2nd row.
Cantabs then moved the ball well into the Walden half and for once managed to keep the move going well putting Walden under serious pressure and causing their outside centre to try to intercept a probable try from an offside position. He was yellow carded, their prop was also injured and left the field. Again Walden asked to go uncontested which would mean they would have to go down to 13 men. Instead they brought on a substitute and despite our protests and the referee appearing to count up the game continued for ten minutes with Walden fielding too many players. The referee's assessor was adamant that they were allowed 14 so our protests came to nothing. Cantabs decided to run the ball and failed to score as Walden yet again won the ball at the ruck, broke away on the left and from their own 22 set up their left winger, who out paced Dean. Dean could only force the try into the corner, and thus prevented a further two points, but the game was gone at 15 - 31.
Walden's yellow card period expired and the game progressed with uncontested scrums. Walden never looked like scoring, but were content to play in our half with Cantabs having possession in areas that did not hurt them. Then the second strange incident. Bloxy caught the ball in his 22 and called for a mark, the referee did not blow up, so Bloxy opened his legs and started off down the left wing avoiding a couple of tackles and finally out pacing the defence. All the Walden players were shouting at the referee that he had called for a mark. Sir finally blew his whistle just as Mr Bloxsum was about to score and play was resumed in the 22. First Sir signalled a scrum, then finally decided on a free kick to Cantabs. A classic case of Cantabs playing to the whistle, or in this case the lack of a whistle, and denied a try - such is life. The game would not take place without a referee, that much we all agree, but Cantabs could justifiably feel that luck was not with them! Shed & co bravely worked the ball out of the 22, and Cantabs kept the ball in hand well through the phases. Eventually we moved the ball into the 22, gained the penalty, Nick hit the line. Stu Williams won the lineout and our rolling maul gave Dave O'Neill his second try. Simple game. Final score 20 - 31.
Same old lessons learned for Cantabs. Lots of honest hard work and endeavour throughout the side but we are learning about this higher standard of rugby the hard way as we were beaten for the fourth time out of six by a team of speedy backs. We will need to be more aggressive at the breakdown and with this home defeat we slipped into the bottom three. We must now regroup and put the work in to sort the issues.