For this Cambs Cup encounter under the Ely lights on a windless but chilly Friday evening, Cantabs made six changes to the squad that toppled Harlow in the last league game. New man Henri Cherrington was on the bench and it was a chance for Michael Pedder to demonstrate his skills at hooker, with captain Tom Bailey resting his sore shoulder. Skipper for the night was James Hayward. CUDRRS provided three officials to their credit and a decent crowd looked forward to an intriguing cup tie.
Ely had gone 10 games unbeaten in London 3 and would provide a real test for Cantabs in front of their own supporters. The pitch was well grassed but soft after the recent rain, as Cantabs kicked off.
Cantabs were soon on the attack but a dropped ball allowed the home side to kick clear. The Tigers made good progress pinning Cantabs back and indeed it was the home side who went ahead converting a penalty from 25 metres to make it 3 - 0. The restart brought about the first scrum as Ely tried to clear their lines. With the scrum holding firm, Hayward made the break to the left, linked with Jonny Heaver, who probably could have scored. Unselfishly, Jonny popped the ball back inside to Dave Evershed, who was unmarked under the posts and he made no mistake. Neither did James; 3 - 7 after 10 minutes.
Ely continued to press and won a penalty for offside in the left hand corner and opted to go for the line. Pete Collins stole the lineout but Cantabs tried to run the ball out of defence and only reached their 22. Ely were certainly posing a lot of questions early on. Matt Houlden had a couple of decent runs down the left wing but to no avail as Ely's defence held firm. The second of these saw Hayward kick ahead finding touch inside the Ely 22. Ely secured their lineout and moved forward at speed. It took a huge tackle from Ollie Blackmur, virtually on the Cantabs try line, to save a certain try.
However, Sir had seen an infringement and brought play back to our 22, from where Ely inched closer at 6 - 7. From the restart the Ely outside centre made 50m slicing through our defence and with an overlap on the left, Ely scored their first try to the delight of the home crowd. The conversion followed and after a quarter of the match the Tigers were ahead at 13 - 7.
Hayward's drop-out went straight into touch and Cantabs scrum was under pressure for the first time as Ely tried to press home their advantage. Finn Morrison was making his presence known, homing in on the Ely fly-half like a guided missile, with tackle after tackle. Cantabs went through a dozen phases retaining the ball to good effect and steadily progressed into the right hand corner. Isaia and Shed both went close, then suddenly Richard Knight had darted through a melee of players to score in the corner; a repeat of his try the previous Saturday. James kick went wide from the touchline but Cantabs were back in the game at 13 - 12. No further score to half time.
Ely started the second half the better, but Cantabs defence held firm. Finn Morrison eventually broke clear with Hayward in support, Ely gave away a penalty and James kicked to the right. Pete Collins, who by now was winning all the lineouts, caught and the maul formed. Cantabs forwards piled into the maul and this progressed right up to the Ely line. There was a pile-up on the line, Hayward retrieved the ball and passed to the right where Shed had the simple task of touching down for his second gift of the evening. Again James' kick went wide, but Cantabs were ahead again at 13 - 17.
The Ely drop-out was caught by Charlie Searle, who stood like a rock as his forwards secured the ball, Cantabs were now well on top and when Pete Collins burst through into the Ely half, although he spilled the ball, he was tackled late and a bout of hand bags followed. The Ely No 15, who had up to then had an excellent game, was adjudged to be the aggressor and took a ten minute break.
When the game restarted it took a great steal from Isaia to stop Ely's progress and Cantabs were able to take advantage of a penalty to pin Ely back in their own 22. Glen now brought on all the Cantabs subs with Jonny Heaver taking over at prop and Charlie Searle back in at hooker, Pedder and Tozer making way. Regan and Finn Morrison were saved for another day. Hayward made a typical break down the left, our scrum was now dominating and Ely were desperately defending. Houlden was tackled into touch on yet another attack. Hayward struck the right hand post with a penalty from 30m out and Ely secured the rebound. Finally the Ely defence was cracked. The attack came down the left, and Ollie Blackmur took the honours, scoring in the corner; 13 - 22, with Hayward's kick this time rebounding off the left upright.
Ely were now looking like a beaten side, but towards the end of the match Harry Wilson was "neck-rolled" and took exception to this, and after an intervention by the touch judge, Harry received a yellow. A long break followed as Dr Richard Knight was summoned to the touchline to offer assistance to the aforesaid neck, before the game could restart. The result it seemed was that Harry would survive. The long interval seemed to do Ely the power of good, as they came back into the game and made the most of their numerical advantage to move from their own 22, and finally their right winger ran around to score to the right of the posts. Again the Ely kicker did his job; and the score moved to 20 - 22. There was not enough time for Ely and Cantabs successfully defended for the final three minutes to run out victors.
A scrappy game it must be said, but two wins on the bounce for Cantabs sets them up very well for the next league encounter away at Epping Upper Clapton; a game we must win to claw our way out of danger in London 3NE.
Man of the match for me was Finn Morrison, his return to the side has definitely improved our chances of avoiding relegation.