Cantabs were almost back to full strength, only David Bloxsum missing, for the visit of 2nd placed Diss. The season's earlier encounter had resulted in a 40 - 17 defeat for Cantabs, so the blue and whites were out to show that their recent improvement was not short-lived.
Diss kicked off towards the railway, on a sticky pitch but with little wind and the sun trying to show its face, it was a near perfect day for a game of rugby. Your correspondent joined the game a little late, but after ten minutes there was still no score, and Cantabs appeared to be camped close to the Diss line. The early scrums went Cantabs' way; Diss being penalised a couple of times, but for all their pressure, Cantabs were unable to make the territorial advantage pay. The greasy surface was not conducive to a running game and both packs were finding hard to get good purchase in the scrums.
The early indications were that Cantabs tacklers were up quick and aggressive at the breakdown and Diss were finding it difficult to mount any serious attacks, or even break clear of their 22.Diss had a good chance to make ground with a penalty from their 22, but the kick was less than accurate, and Cantabs, through Tom Bailey, were able to stifle the short throw, when it came back to their hooker, and Diss being penalised for not releasing. James Hayward's kick made it back into the 22. Stef caught the throw, the maul moved the ball forward and suddenly Shed burst clear. Two sets of hands later and Stu Williams burst up to the line, but Diss were alive to the threat. In the next attack, Cantabs again went close, but the strength of the tackle caused a knock on, and again Diss escaped.
The ball was kicked long into our half, it was caught by Hayward, he eyed up his options, then spotted a gap and moved into the Diss half. Confronted by a line of Diss defenders he chipped the ball into the space behind, picked up the ball as it bounced, chipped again for the line, and had the speed to reach the ball first with a triumphant dive close to the posts. A lovely try to reward Cantabs for their early domination. His conversion was straightforward;
7 - 0 after 28 minutes.
Cantabs put the next serious move together. It started with a break from defence by full-back Tim Charlton, his pass to a flying Finn Morrison continued the move and when Francois Eve took over on the right wing, it took a great cover tackle into touch to prevent a score. Stef again took the lineout ball and this time set up a great driving maul. This moved play 20 metres way into the Diss 22. The maul appeared to be hauled down, but Cantabs pack were now rampant. We took the ball against the head at the scrum, and Stu Williams picked up and again went close. We were awarded a penalty, for offside at the ruck and elected for a scrum. This time Isaia Barbieri and Tom Bailey tried to make the line. The ruck formed two metres out, their prop was penalised and received a yellow card. We all thought, scrum again. But Perksy elected for the kick to goal with three minutes left in the half. This time it didn't pay off as Hayward's kick sailing wide when it looked easier to score.
The half finished at 7 - 0 and Cantabs should have been a couple of more tries ahead in truth. No changes for Cantabs at the break.
Cantabs kick-off into the breeze, allowed Diss to run the ball back at us and an awkward period of pressure showed that the Norfolk men were far from out of the game. Time and again Cantabs tried to clear. Diss were using their South Seas No 8 to good effect but our tackling was fierce and relentless. When our back row were not tearing into their opposite numbers, Stef and Shed were. If Diss managed to get two or three passes down the line they met Sami and Nick where the tackling was just as strong. Diss were mounting attack after attack and rarely crossed the gain line; the Cantabs defence was magnificent. Cantabs did finally break away, through Francois down the right, and with the help of a Hayward penalty, we found ourselves in the corner. The throw was again caught, the maul took us forwards, we appeared to score through Isaia, but play was brought back for an accidental offside , but as the picture shows Isaia went very close. Restored to full numbers, Diss held onto their five metre scrum, and cleared the danger.
Diss tried to break clear through the centre but knocked on, and after the scrum was wheeled, Isaia was slow in getting to his feet. Charlie Searle joined the front row for the next scrum as Isaia trudged off in some discomfort. Diss then besieged our line for a good ten minutes with our crowd getting concerned. Their big men inched the ball closer and closer. Cantabs gave away two penalties for ruck offences and suddenly we were on our own line defending. This time Stef was yellow carded for persistent infringements, and it was Diss going for the 5 metre scrum. Our seven men and a brilliant strike from Tom, won the ball against the head and Sami kicked to touch.
Diss came back at us again and their No 8 again went close. Cantabs cleared, but a crooked lineout from Diss followed by another from Cantabs put our depleted pack under big pressure. Somehow Cantabs cleared the danger yet again. Stef was now back on and through that ten minutes Cantabs had not crossed the halfway line. Pete Collins replaced Finn at the next breakdown to give some fresh legs to the defence. However, in a frantic attempt to mount another assault on our line, Diss spilled the ball on halfway. Francois seized on it and set off down the right wing. He appeared to have been caught but somehow made it to the line, to the relief and cheers of the Cantabs supporters. The kick from the touchline faded past the post, but Cantabs had some breathing space at 12 - 0.
Then, Toby Carver (girl friend, Teagan, newly arrived from Aussie watching), ripped the ball away from the Diss centre, and shot into the opposition half. His fly-half was ideally placed for the pass and their was no stopping James as he darted through the centre to score under the posts. His second try and his second conversion of the day; 19 - 0 sealing the win.
Diss returned to their battering of our line and finally despite the weight of our tackling, the score came close to the posts. However in their haste to get back to the action, the conversion kick was missed and the score stayed at 19 - 5.
Diss did have time for one more attack, but James Hayward fittingly had the last word, booting the ball away into the crowd to bring the final whistle. An historic win for Cantabs, who again showed they can be a match for anyone in this league. We consolidated our sixth place with this victory, while Diss fell below Sudbury to third. Next game in two weeks time is away to league leaders Saffron Walden. It will be some battle; I hope you will find the time to join me at Henham.