Cantabs welcomed Finn Morrison back at open-side for this encounter with Romford and Gidea Park. It was only Finn's second start in a year after two serious injuries. The team also saw the return of prodigal son, James Hayward, at fly-half after his journeying. But with both Nick Denham and Richard Knight learning the art of fatherhood, and Dean James restricted to water boy for the day, it fell to Jim Bryant to fill the scrum-half spot. Our front row was strengthened by the return of Isaia Barbieri, and although Romford supporters were happy that Mr Perks was missing from the scrum, our front five were clearly going to have a major say in the proceedings, even without him.
The pitch was very wet after 12 hours of rain, and was clearly going to cut up badly; the warm-up had shown that much. Romford kicked off towards the clubhouse, but it was Cantabs that were soon mounting the first attack. From a Romford scrum on our 10m line, Cantabs won the ball and shipped it out to the left with Hayward's long pass to his outside centre, who passed on to the speedy Matt Houlden. He rounded the first two tacklers and was heading for the corner, until a try-saving tackle bundled him into touch ten metres out. Cantabs won the ball back and Finn Morrison went even closer but knocked on in the process. Romford's scrum on 5m was not up to the pressure. Cantabs took the ball, Jim Bryant to Hayward, who skipped past his opposition number to touch down to the left of the posts. James converted his own try; 7 - 0 to Cantabs after just four minutes.
The rain had finally stopped, but even now at times it was hard to distinguish one team from another, as both packs were in grey after just ten minutes play. Cantabs were awarded a scrum on their 10m line, and the Romford pack was slid backwards all the way to their 22. By then Sir had seen enough, the Romford tight head stepped out for ten minutes respite from the mud, and James kicked to the left hand corner. Pete Collins caught the throw, the maul formed and with captain Tom Bailey directing the push from the back, it was a foregone conclusion. Tom duly scored; 12 - 0 with Hayward's kick pulled to the left of the posts after eleven minutes.
Romford then enjoyed their best period of play and for ten minutes battered away in the Cantabs half. Our defence held up but the tackling became more and more of a lottery with cold wet hands clutching at pieces of soggy jerseys. Romford were now winning too many penalties as Cantabs pushed too hard to win possession. One such kick resulted in a Romford lineout deep inside our 22. The Romford lineout worked well, the ball was moved infield from the left and suddenly their centre burst through our line to score close to the posts; 12 - 7 and Cantabs knew they were in a game.
Romford continued to press after the restart, aided by yet more penalties awarded against us. But finally, the ball was back with Hayward. His kick from the Cantabs 10m line cross-field to the left soared high and bounced inside the Romford 22. Matt Houlden leapt the highest and somehow gathered the ball mid- somersault, held on and Finn Morrison was first to react, secured the ball and sprinted in for a try in the corner. James kicked unsuccessfully out of the mud, but Cantabs had some breathing space at 17 - 7.
Cantabs were soon back on the attack, a penalty saw James hit the right hand corner this time, again Pete Collins caught the ball, Isaia went for the line but was tackled short. Cantabs won another penalty, and Jonny Heaver went for the quick tap. From 5m out there was no stopping him; 22 - 7, the bonus point secured; and it's been some time since I could write that!
Half time and no changes to the Cantabs personnel, but they emerged from the changing room in a fresh kit; no expense spared. The first real action of the half saw a lovely exchange of close passing down the right wing with Charlie Searle, Danny Richards, Ollie Blackmur and Pete Collins all involved. But by now the conditions were definitely spoiling open play, and the move was halted at the Romford 22. Romford were spared when Hayward's kick to the corner went long, and the opposition worked the ball out of danger.
Cantabs were soon back in the Romford 22 but again spilt the ball just 10m out. The Romford scrum was under huge pressure in the right hand corner, Cantabs took the ball, and moved it to the left. Finally, Jim Bryant spotted a gap and sped through it to score close to the posts. This time James had no problem; 29 - 7.
First change from Glen followed with Jonny Regan on to the right wing and Ollie Blackmur moving to inside centre. Finn Morrison was also replaced by Harry Wilson at open-side. Finn had done his job, and good news; he was in one piece for the next game! The match now degenerated into a real lottery, the conditions were definitely winning; the pitch was a sea of mud and just the odd flash of green from the Cantabs change kit aiding the spectators.
Ryan Molair replaced Charlie in the front row, but the Cantabs scrum looked just as solid. It was now Cantabs turn to go down to 14 with Adam Fastnedge receiving a yellow for not moving away at the tackle. Romford to their credit were not giving up and with ten minutes to go a penalty kick to the left hand corner did the damage. Romford caught the throw, their maul was up to the mark and they scored to the left of the posts. The kick was converted to make the score 29 - 14, the Cantabs supporters wondered whether our team would hold on.
However, Cantabs really never looked like conceding again and it was the home side that went closest with a series of surges from the front five following a catch and drive in the left hand corner. Romford survived the pressure and mounted a last attack, but when James Hayward finally got hold of the ball and kicked into touch, Cantabs had done the job. This win took us back up the league, but the next game away to Woodford will show whether our fortunes are slowly changing for the good.
Man of the match for me was James Hayward with Jim Bryant running him close as well as the whole of the front five. The kicking from James out of hand in these conditions was crucial as was our dominance in the scrums. If Cantabs continue to fight as hard for the rest of the season as they have in the last two matches we can still look forward to London 2 next season. Make sure you are back at Sedley Taylor Road on the 3rd February when Harlow are the visitors and a pre-match lunch is organised.