Cantabs fielded six front row players in the pack for this encounter with Rochford Hundred, another club we had not played for around thirty years. Rochford had recently beaten title favourites Diss, so a hard game was expected. The biggest shock proceeded the game when Tony Kennedy was pulled out of the pre-match lunch to referee; the appointed official having been taken ill.
Rochford kicked off towards the railway and were soon under pressure from a penalty to the corner, but they cleared the danger when our lineout went awry. David Bloxsum's initiation to the game was a massive tackle from which he took some time to recover. Rochford worked their way forward and won a penalty 40 metres out, went for goal, but missed.
Early territorial advantage went to Rochford until Tim Charlton made a lovely break out of his 22, but when he released the ball on their 10m line, we managed to spill it. Early scrums were quite even with neither pack giving ground. A penalty to Cantabs then allowed James Hayward to find touch on the right just 5m out. The lineout was won and Perksy went for the line, but he was adjudged held up with our pack trying to take him over the line.
Rochford cleared but did not find touch and Alex Stafford's grubber kick to the left found touch to put Rochford back in their own 22. However the visitors' lineout was up to the task and again they cleared the danger. Their two second row players were doing the damage in the lineouts, but following an attempted tackle on Finn Morrison one of them had to leave the game with a badly twisted knee and took no further part in the game. Both teams were still trying to break the deadlock, with too many handling errors forced by aggressive defence from each side.
Charlton and Nick Denham combined well on the right and made good progress, but again we spilled the ball when it was recycled. Another lovely kick to the corner from Alex forced Rochford back, but their lineout was up to the mark and they cleared. No score at half time.
Will Riggs made one change at the break, bringing on Pete Collins for Joe Allison. Keegan Evans moved to No. 8 and Pete to blindside.
Isaia Barbieri took a short line out and when Tom Bailey took over at the resulting ruck he was able to release James Hayward who sliced through the defence from 25 metres out to touch down to the right of the posts. Nick's conversion went across the face of the posts, but Cantabs were at last ahead at 5 - 0, with 45 minutes gone.
Rochford did not stay behind for more than a few minutes, breaking through our defence to score right against the posts; 5 - 7 after 55 minutes, and Cantabs knew they were in a game.
Two further changes for Cantabs, brought Dean James on for Toby Carver at scrum half, and Xaver Touschek onto the right wing for Alex Stafford, with Nick Denham moving to centre. The change soon came good. Xaver picked up the ball from touch just inside the Rochford half, and immediately threw a short lineout to Dean, who ran unopposed right through to score under the posts, with Rochford standing still. Nick had no problem with the conversion and Cantabs were ahead again at 12 - 7.
Cantabs then had a glorious chance to score when Hayward's chip through the centre was gathered and then spilled with the try line at our mercy. Charlie Searle took a break bringing Joe Allison back into the game. The lineout that followed on our 22 was again spoilt by their aggressive forwards, we missed two tackles and they were adjudged to have scored to the right of the posts. I say adjudged because the touchdown was a metre sort and their man then knocked on. However, the conversion followed, both touch judges said no score and as far as the scoreboard was concerned Rochford were level at 12 - 12. But it later transpired that Sir had given the conversion and so the corrected score was 12 - 14.
There was still sixteen minutes left on the clock, but it did not take Cantabs long to get back on the score sheet. Keegan won yet another ball with his fierce tackle causing the knock-on. The scrum did its job and from 30m out Nick Denham burst through on the right, dummied to pass to Xaver on the wing and scored. Again our try was to far out right for Nick to add the points, but Cantabs were ahead again at 17 - 14.
Rochford were not done though and an over zealous attempt to win the ball at the ruck gave them a penalty. They kicked to the left hand corner, the lineout was 10m out, we infringed again at the breakdown and the next penalty gave them a six metre lineout. Their rolling maul following the catch put us under huge pressure. We held them up but the ball was recycled and their was no stopping their big inside centre who scored his second try of the game, again right against the post. Their conversion sailed over at with six minutes to go, Rochford had retaken the lead at 17 - 21.
Cantabs came close in the ensuing minutes but not close enough, a couple of mistakes when we had a glimmer of a chance, and our scrum just outside their 22 wheeled combined to allow Rochford to run down the clock and take the honours. Final score was finally corrected to 17 - 21 in the clubhouse.
After a hat trick of wins, Cantabs were firmly put back in their place by a determined Rochford Hundred side who moved clear of Cantabs in the league table, with us slipping to 8th place after this. Still a lot to play for, and with the division being very congested, a couple of wins in the New Year will improve our chances of survival or better at this level.
Aussie Keegan Evans was adjudged man of the match as the Players Christmas party got underway in the clubhouse; festive jumpers the flavour of the day. Graeme Bennett walked away with the Deller turkey for the second time, so his Christmas is sorted.
My best wishes to all the lads and the loyal Cantabs members for the New Year.