The longest trip of the season found us all at Holt where a big crowd had assembled to see if the Norfolk men could upset Cantabs. To my recollection this was a ground where I had never seen us win. Perksy was working, so Shed took over the captain's duties and Ben Tozer got a start at No 1 with Isaia switching sides in the front row. Changes also at 8 and 9 saw the return of Rich Ford for his first start of the season at No 8 and Dean James moved from the back row to fill in at scrum half. This gave the chance for Ollie Lewis at blindside to debut for the 1st XV. Cantabs back line looked to be full of running with the welcome return of Jamie Faed and Paul Pudney at centres and James Hayward at flyhalf.
Holt kicked off on a well-grassed pitch on a bright day and although Cantabs spilled the kick, the Holt lineout was poor and Cantabs were soon on the attack, through Pudney and Bloxsum on the left. Play was switched to the right and Holt were pushed back onto their own line. We knocked on, Holt held onto their scrum but James Balfe was up quick onto their flyhalf to charge down the clearing kick. Cantabs won the resulting 5m scrum; Dean James to James Hayward, back inside to Nick Denham, coming through at pace, who scored unopposed. Hayward kicked the conversion and with two minutes gone we were ahead at 0 - 7.
Cantabs were full of running with centres Jamie Faed and Paul Pudney looking for the gaps. Next meaningful attack was set up by Dean James with a powerful run from deep. The ball was recycled quickly out left by Hayward to Bloxsum on the wing, he sprinted past three men cut inside and 5m out found Ben Tozer up in support on his right shoulder. Ben scored his first ever try for the 1st XV diving over at the posts. No problem for James; 0 - 14.
Just a minute later, Pudney collected the ball on the edge of our 22 and set off on a powerful run that took him past everyone and completed the job diving over to the left of the posts. Eleven minutes gone, James kicked beautifully to add the extra and we were looking unbeatable at 0 - 21.
The Holt lineout was not functioning well and Cantabs were capitalising on this. Alex made yet another good break down the right, and his kick ahead was spilled by their defender giving us the put in inside the Holt 22. We managed to knock on and Holt kicked clear. But the ball was caught superbly be Francois over his shoulder on the right wing and he turned and ran back at the Holt line. Francois chipped over the defenders, gathered the bouncing ball and scored in the right hand corner; another great try. James' conversion from out wide appeared to pass over the top of the posts this time, but we had the bonus point in the bag at 0 - 26.
The next try soon came, and it was Pudney's second. Paul kicked ahead down the left and again we had the rub of the green as he gathered up the ball to score to the left of the posts. This time James made no mistake and right on half time we were well ahead at 0 - 33. A great half of running rugby with all the backs combining well to take advantage of some great interplay from our two half-backs. However, the backs could not operate without the Cantabs forwards keeping it tight and winning the rucks. Tom Bailey, in particular had a great first half stealing a lot of ball at the break down and charging at the opposing pack on every opportunity. Rich Ford too showed that he still had the class and steel when it mattered, winning lots of good ball in the loose and setting up our scrum half.
No immediate changes at half time. First Cantabs attack was a typical play by Hayward. He hacked the ball forwards on their 10m line, kicked again twice more, was first to the bouncing ball and ran around to score under the posts. He converted his own try to bring the score to 0 - 40.
At this point all the pressure was coming from Cantabs. Bloxsum got within half a metre with a dazzling run down the right, but the ball was ripped from him as he stretched for the line. Cantabs went close again but somehow contrived to lose a scrum 5m out under the posts and that was a signal for Glen to make his changes. Francois off with a damaged shoulder was replaced by Ollie Townsend, Ollie Lewis gave way to Wyoming Jeffries and Tom Bailey was rested to see how Ryan Colclough coped at hooker.
The next try soon followed; a break on the right by Bloxsum, put Pudney in for his hat-trick, scored under the posts. James Hayward somehow contrived to hit the crossbar, but the score had moved to
0 - 45. However, Holt were not done and to great applause their No 5 took advantage of some sloppy play by Cantabs to drive through on the right and score in the corner; 5 - 45.
This certainly seemed to wake up the Holt forwards as their No 8 and the second row forwards were now rampant. Another powerful run through the centre was stopped illegally. Holt took a quick tap and their outside centre scored close to the posts. At this point all ideas of converting tries seemed to disappear and the score moved to 10 - 45. Rich Ford was then given a ten minute break, much to his annoyance.
Cantabs then broke up another Holt attack on our 22. James passed out wide to the right to Bloxy. He out paced everyone to run the length of the field, stepped inside the full-back and scored under the posts. We won't mention the conversion, but Cantabs were home and dry at 10 - 50.
Holt then decided it was time for action. I guess some of our lads thought the game was done, and in truth it was. But first their prop scored at the posts from yet another example of aggrieved forwards seeking revenge. Cantabs were restored to 15, Tom Bailey returned for the last period as Ryan took a bad knock, and Holt were denied a try when the ball was adjudged held up. The disappointment of the Holt faithful was not to last as yet again the Holt forwards blasted through our tackles to score their fourth try. Again this was not converted, but the score was at 20 - 50.
Ollie Lewis rejoined at the expense of Rich Ford for the final minutes and Cantabs managed to run the game out without further excitement.
Although Holt won the second half, Cantabs display of running rugby was one of our best of the season and 50 points away at Holt has not been achieved in my era certainly. Difficult to look beyond Paul Pudney for man of the match, but all the backs played well. In the forwards we rather took our eye off the ball in the second half and the tackling got sloppy. But we can move forward to the big game against Romford next week, in the knowledge that a win will secure third place in the division; so be there!