Cantabs in fifth place were away to fourth-placed Rochford Hundred in the penultimate game of the league season. Rochford had narrowly won the corresponding fixture just before the Christmas break, so Cantabs were expecting a close game. James Hayward was back at flyhalf for the first time in six weeks and Nick Denham returned to partner Alex Stafford in the centres. Keegan Evans had been joined by his mother and father, over from Australia for the last two games, before they whisked him back to Oz.
Rochford kicked off with the wind and the slope assisting them. The pitch was sticky in places after the recent rain, but was also well grassed. Rochford made all the early running and with Hayward's clearing kick going out on the full, we were finding it difficult making past half way. It took some stout defending and a slick passing move to get Cantabs into the opposition half after five minutes. However a series of penalties at the breakdown saw Cantabs rapidly dispatched back into their own territory. Keegan made the first decisive break out of his own 22, Perksy took up the challenge and the pass, galloping freely up to the Rochford fullback. No niceties here, Perksy, not known for his side step, appeared to try and run him over. The fullback, to his credit, did enough to halt our prop's progress and Isaia continued the move, before Alex Stafford took over with a diagonal run into the left hand corner. He ran out of space and Rochford cleared from the resulting lineout.
Rochford used the wind to good effect and with the help of a penalty moved back into our 22. It took a lovely saving tackle for David Bloxsum to prevent a score, but the penalty count against Cantabs was mounting and the Essex men were soon back on the attack.
After a couple more penalties Rochford gained a 5m lineout. The ball was caught and Cantabs halted the maul, but with the ball recycled back, this time their centre jinked past the Cantabs defence to score out wide to the left of the posts. The conversion was wide but with seventeen minutes gone the home side were first on the board at 5 - 0.
All the pressure was coming from Rochford, and they missed a relatively straightforward chance to increase their lead with a penalty 25m out. But finally Cantabs won a penalty with Isaia taken out of the play without the ball and we moved into the Rochford half for only the second time. We lost our lineout, but Jonny Heaver was able to rip the ball away to set up an attack. A further penalty kick to the corner threatened to give us a chance but the ball was adjudged crooked and the chance had gone. Our scrums were going well but on their own ball Rochford were just about coping. Their lineout at this point was very solid, so Cantabs were not getting the possession we normally expected from the restarts. Rochford were soon back on the offensive and spurned another easy kick in front of goal by going for the corner. The 5m lineout was caught by their big jumper, but Keegan somehow wrestled the ball away and Cantabs cleared the danger. At the breakdown it was Keegan again who made the next break and gained a penalty. Scrum half, Toby, took a quick tap shot forward through a gap taking out three defenders and found James Hayward outside in support. James cut back in from the left and weaved his way through the Rochford defence to score under the posts. No problem with the conversion; 5 - 7 and after 35 minutes we were finally ahead. Our defence held firm for the remainder of the half.
The wind had dropped for the start of the second half and the sun started to warm us for the first time in two days. A sun-tanned Charlie Searle took over at hooker from Thom Bailey as we restarted. Cantabs were soon on the attack down the right, with full-back Tim Charlton getting a chance to run at the defence. Faced with a wall of defenders, Tim pushed a great kick down the right hand touch line. Francois needed no further encouragement and set off in pursuit from the Rochford 10m line. He didn't get to the ball first as the ball went into goal, but he must have distracted the full-back enough because he could not ground the ball and that honour fell to Toby who had followed up to arrive in the right place at the right time. This time James' kick faded past the near upright, but Cantabs were away at 5 - 12.
Cantabs were now looking dangerous with every attack. Bloxy moved in from the left on halfway and his silky run moved him past three men before putting Francois away on the right. Our right winger looked to be in but a desperate tackle, right on the line, dislodged the ball, to give Rochford a 5m lineout. For the first time in the game, their jumper did not get the ball but a soaring Stu Williams did, Perksy tried to make the line, Shed had a good go and then Keegan was unceremoniously forced back. He managed to recycle and James took the ball from Toby's pass, lofted a kick out wide to the left wing. It was perfectly taken by Bloxy, who scored ten metres in from the corner. James kick sailed through the posts; 5 - 19, and we were purring.
Rochford brought on their subs, including the South Sea Islander in the centre and Cantabs seemed to go back into defensive mode with 15 minutes to go. We had a chance with a scrum only 7m out but managed to heel the ball passed Joe Alison now on for Alex at No 8, with Finn moved to centre. That turned out to be a last realistic chance for a bonus point, because Rochford were getting back into the game.
Inevitably the next attack saw their burly centre avoid a couple of tackles, and with a diagonal run to the left scored their second try. The scrum half took over the kicking, but to no better effect as his conversion went wide; 10 - 19. At this point the referee seemed to want to steel the limelight penalising both scrum halves for crooked feeds at the scrum, and the pressure was telling as the Rochford crowd sensed there may still be a chance of something out of the game. Then with less than five minutes to go Finn received a yellow for not releasing his man in the tackle, and Cantabs had to defend hard to keep out the opposition. Finally, Tim Charlton was able to kick the ball into touch to mark the end of the match.
A very good win for Cantabs which if followed up with with another win against Romford next week will secure us in fourth place as the season concludes.
The 2nd XV won at Ely to go past 800 points for the season and finish second in Eastern Counties 2W. The 3rd XV also wound up their season with a 34 - 0 win at St Ives; they finish 3rd in Eastern Counties 3W. Three away wins for Cantabs on the same day; the first time for many a year I would hazard a guess.
There will be two games at home next week, with a visiting touring side kicking off at 13.00 and our 1sts entertaining Rochford and Gidea Park at 15.00. The beer all has to go; I will need some assistance!