Another close encounter with South Woodham Ferrers (SWF) was expected. Last season the clubs had one win apiece and had scored 46 points each in the two corresponding games. Cantabs were still looking for their first league win, and welcomed back James Hayward and David Bloxsum. Versatile Nick Denham took over at scrum half for this one. The M11 had delayed the visitors somewhat but the game still managed to kick off on time in front of a well-fed crowd who had enjoyed Mark Searle's pre-match lunch. Fittingly, both of his sons were in the starting line-up. It was a glorious Autumn day for a game of rugby.
Cantabs kicked off towards the clubhouse but it was SWF who showed some slick handling backwards and forwards across the pitch in an attempt to set up a breakthrough. Cantabs held them out and mounted their own attack down the left with Nick Denham. Shed got within a metre but although we recycled, the next phase broke down and SWF cleared the danger. Nick and Dean were both involved at the breakdown, as scrum halves in the next attack and when Paul Pudney took Nick's pass to the left he put his head down and went for the line. There were two men outside, but Pud's mind was on scoring himself and he dived over for the first score. James Hayward's kick faded away, but for the first time in the season Cantabs had the lead at 5 - 0.
Cantabs made a real hash of the restart kick with the ball allowed to bounce into the left hand corner of our 22, and desperate tackling was required to prevent an immediate reply. Jamie Williams was looking supreme in the lineout, taking the first three lineouts as SWF tried to push us back with good touch kicking. SWF were on top at this point and I counted three tackles from Tom Skelton which stopped the SWF progress. Then Shed followed suit with a great try saving tackle as their outside centre raced down the left.
David Bloxsum finally got some space on our left but his final pass out of the tackle did not go to hand. Tom Skelton prevented a couple more moves down their left with exemplary tackling, but SWF managed to hold onto the ball and we defended well to hold up the ball over the try line to prevent the score. The SWF scrum couldn't do the job with two 5m scrums, so their flyhalf tried a little lofted kick towards the left wing which we failed to gather cleanly; and the visitors took advantage to score to the left of the posts. The conversion was good; 5 - 7.
SWF were not ahead for long. Dean stole the ball in the maul as their defender was stood up, and James' kick to the corner was fumbled by their winger, giving us a scrum 15m out. The scrum did its job, Nick and James combined well to put Bloxy away down the left. He got close, but was tackled and the recycled ball was taken up by James, who jinked down the wing, found Shed inside on his shoulder and the big man did the rest from ten metres out; 10 - 7 after 30 minutes.
SWF pressed again and this time Dan Searle made a great tackle to stop progress. Our back row were in the thick of the action and all working hard to keep the Essex men out. Our scrums were holding up well and our pack was looking the stronger of the two sides. Their flyhalf set up another attack with a great kick into touch on the right deep inside our 22. Jamie won the lineout but the delivery back to James bounced in front of him awkwardly and his clearing kick was grabbed by SWF. Again we held them up over the line and from the resulting scrum, SWF won a penalty for offside. SWF kicked to the left hand corner this time, won the lineout well and shipped the ball back over to the right where their right winger was able to score in the corner at ease. The conversion was good and right on half time as the visitors took the lead deservedly at 10 - 14.
Cantabs attacked from the start of the second half with Pudney making the break again and he drew the penalty as SWF killed the ball. From bang in front on the 22, James made no mistake; 13 - 14.
SWF kicked long, we fumbled the kick but the SWF attack was halted by a forward pass. Again SWF threatened just outside the Cantabs 22, their flyhalf tried a grubber kick to the right, Pudney intercepted it, picking it up cleanly and set off down the left. He outsprinted all but James Hayward and went under the posts unopposed. What happened next, shall go unreported, but the score remained at 18 - 14, Cantabs back in the lead.
Regan took a break and Patrick came off the bench to take over on the left wing. Then in the space of five minutes our lead disappeared. SWF won a penalty to make it 18 - 17, then Tom bulldozing his way out of the 22 from the restart lost the ball in an attempt to offload in the tackle and SWF seized on their chance to run the ball straight back for a try close to our posts. The conversion kick was good and we were behind again at 18 - 24.
Darren came on at 2nd row for Laurence and James Balfe took Dan Searle's spot. James' kick into the corner forced the SWF defender to take the ball into touch inside the 22. All the pressing was now coming from the home side. Time and again we pushed SWF back into their 22. A succession of penalties and a further 10m for chatting finally brought play up to within 10m of the opposition line. Cantabs went for the catch and drive; Jamie caught, the maul was brought down illegally, and their flanker received a yellow. Shed called for the scrum and twice we were thwarted. Finally scum half Nick went round on the blindside to score in the corner. From the touchline James' kick hit the post and stayed out; 23 - 24.
In the final two minutes Cantabs could not get back into the red zone and SWF took the honours as the final whistle went. Cantabs outscored them four tries to three and took two bonus points to open our league account. My man of the match was Tom Skelton for his great defensive work and tackling. Cantabs are getting there, the first win of the season is surely just around the corner.
We are back at Sedley Taylor Road next week when the visitors are Rochford Hundred. Good wins for the 2nds and 3rds yesterday; Walden 2s being trounced by our 2s at Henham and after a thumping win against Wendens Ambo are 3rds went top of their division.