The first London 3 fixture of the 2019/20 season saw Cantabs back at old rivals West Norfolk after a break of four years. The weather was more suited to a game of cricket than rugby but the pitch had a good covering of grass and we looked forward to an open game in the warm sunshine. Youngster Danny Richards, at No 8 was our new captain, but with four ex Captains in the squad, he would get plenty of guidance.
For Cantabs last season's captain and scrum half, Richard Knight was back from a serious shoulder injury, which saw him miss most of the season. It was also a welcome return for Adam Fastnedge, who again had missed the second half the season through injury in 2018/19. Most incredible, however, was the renaissance of Danny James, brought in at hooker; I think it was twelve years since we had seen Danny in the 1st XV front row. Ollie Townsend was in at fly-half and good to see a South Sea Islander back in the centre with Mara Tunivanua adding a bit of power to the backs. Two new boys making their league debuts for Cantabs; Luke Farrow on the wing and front row replacement Tim Kirkconel both adding a bit of youth to the squad.
Cantabs were soon making in-roads into the opposition half and a penalty from full-back Finlay Laing after just two minutes of play gave Cantabs the first score. Cantabs did not deal with the restart well and allowed West Norfolk to reach our 22 where Cantabs offended and the resultant penalty brought the score to 3 - 3.
In the very next attack from West Norfolk, Danny James sustained a serious blow to his right shoulder, hit after he had released the ball. After a lengthy spell of treatment, Danny left the field and took no further part in the game. This caused Jonny Heaver to be promoted into the front row as hooker, bringing Ed Foster off the bench into 2nd row. Danny's long awaited return had lasted all of five minutes - such is life.
A penalty and good hands from Rich Ford on halfway at the resultant lineout, allowed Finn Morrison to break through their back line at speed, he found Adam Fastnedge and his diagonal run to the right saw him score in the right hand corner. Finlay made no mistake with the conversion from out wide; 3 - 10 to Cantabs.
Next score went to the home side; Luke Farrow was adjudged to have knocked the ball down deliberately and was yellow carded, and from the penalty their fly-half found the right hand corner. The catch and drive was thwarted but Cantabs' defence had been sucked into the corner and with a couple of long passes out to the left saw our defence stretched, and their left winger touched down out wide. Too wide for the Wests kicker; 8 - 10 as the ball rapped the far post and stayed out - 18 minutes gone according to my reckoning (and timings from this point became very approximate and never again in line with Sir).
Dean James, then took a knock to his left knee and a substantial support, obviously made ready for just this eventuality, was tightened around the damaged joint. Deano is never long out of the action, and it was his fierce tackle that loosened the ball enough to set up the next Cantabs attack. Rich Ford made the initial break and his pass to the right found Adam Fastnedge on hand to take full advantage, scoring at the posts. No problem for Finlay again and we moved to 8 - 17 after 22? minutes.
Finlay's kick to the corner again allowed Cantabs to press home yet another attack and at this point of the game we were seriously on top. Luke Farrow came back into the fray in time to see Finn Morrison secure the ball from a lineout deep on the left, Richard Knight shifted the ball out wide through the backs, Ollie could only flick on the ball, but found Kieran Dolaghan out wide. Kieran jinked inside three tacklers and stretched out to score to the right of the posts. For once Finlay missed the conversion, but Cantabs were now deservedly ahead at 8 - 22 with 10 minutes to go.
Cantabs spilled another good move when it looked easier to score. Luke Farrow had a good run down the left wing, but lost the ball in the tackle. According to my watch we had a minute at the most to go when Mara Tunivanua and one other tackled one of the home players. The combined effect of two tacklers was that their opponent was lifted over shoulder height and Mara was harshly yellow carded. No injury ensued to the home side player, but the resultant penalty allowed the Wests kicker to find the right hand corner. The lineout was secured and the maul did the rest; 13 - 22, with the conversion again missing. Still we played on, and apparently Sir had forgotten to restart his watch at some point.
Wests gave away a penalty at the restart and Finlay added three further points to make the score 13 - 25, kicking from 24 metres out. There was till time for yet another restart kick, Wests ran the kick back through the middle of our defence and at the second attempt the ball was grounded over the try line; 18 - 25, again no conversion. The game continued, Wests were penalised a further ten metres for back chat; not for the first time as their discipline waned. Finlay kicked to the corner and we knocked on at the lineout. The half ended finally having played fifteen minutes of overtime.
We restarted the game at 16.00 after a very short break and Mara rejoined to make the numbers up for us, with Wests having scored ten points in the time he was missing. However, Richard Knight who had taken a heavy tackle halfway through the first half, was not feeling 100% and his place at scrum half was taken by Ollie. With Finlay moving to flyhalf, and Kieran to fullback, it gave Fergus Wilson a run on the right wing. Cantabs started off the better, with an attack down the left that saw Rich Ford go close, before knocking on close to the corner. Cantabs kept the play in the same corner and when Wests kicked the ball clear it was only just up to the 22. Rich Ford secured the lineout and a slick move out wide, saw Adam Fastnedge kick the ball over the cover defence, gather the bouncing ball and score under the posts for our bonus point try and his hat trick. Finlay added the extra, and Cantabs were clear at 18 - 32.
Glen called off Ben Tozer at that point to see how youngster Tim Kirkconel could perform up front. Adam Fastnedge took a heavy knock, but soldiered on after treatment. Deano was like the walking wounded throughout, but continued to mimic Finn Morrison as the two of them threw themselves into tackle after tackle. But it was Wests who made the first meaningful break, again with their big man through the centre. The try followed out to the left as Cantabs scrambled across, but although the kick was easier, again their man failed with the conversion; 23 - 32.
Danny Richards tackled well to stop the next Wests break, again they argued with Sir and were reduced to fourteen for ten minutes. Wests again appeared to lose discipline and continued to back chat, Cantabs gained a penalty 23 metres out, and central. However, for some strange reason we turned down the opportunity of three points and elected for the scrum; which we promptly lost! Somehow this was the catalyst for Cantabs to go onto the back foot, we never seriously threatened to score again. A resurgent Wests cheered on by the home side continued to dominate possession; turned down a chance of three points and also elected for a scrum on the edge of our 22. The score inevitably came and this time it was close to the posts, allowing their kicker an easy conversion; 30 - 32. According to my watch there were just a few minutes to go, but Wests were back up to fifteen and kept pouring back into our half - not a game for the faint hearted.
Cantabs continued to tackle well, but every penalty was going against us and we rarely got out of our half. Finally, following a penalty to the corner and a secured lineout, Wests moved to ten metres out, where we tackled the ball carrier, but then incredibly tried to play the ball on the ground. Sir had already called last play, but had no option than to award a penalty. Their man, who had missed practically every kick all afternoon, suddenly was the hero as his kick sailed through the centre of the posts; 33 - 32. The home crowd were celebrating, to say the least.
We left the field at 16.55, a marathon of a game, with West Norfolk taking five points and Cantabs two.
1 Ben Tozer,2 Danny James,3 Jon Perks,4 Richard Ford,5 Jonny Heaver,
6 Dean James,7 Finn Morrison,8 Danny Richards (capt),9 Richard Knight,10 Ollie Townsend
11 Luke Farrow,12 Adam Fastnedge,13 Mara Tunivanua,14 Kieran Dolaghan,15 Finlay Laing,
16 Tim Kirkconel,17 Ed Foster,18 Fergus Wilson
Coaches: Glen Remnant/Will Riggs