A local Derby was in prospect; second versus third in London 3. On Friday the pitch was puddling, but some good drying weather followed and we were promised a dry Saturday as well. By 10 am on Saturday morning it was teeming down again and although the rain stopped by 11.30, the pitch was soggy and bound to cut up badly. But with no standing water the game was on.
Probably more changes for a high pressure match than Glen Remnant would have wanted. Our front five were unchanged as were our half backs. But flankers, Finn Morrison and Pete Collins, had not recovered from last week's injuries and centres Adam Fastnedge(flu) and Kieran Dolaghan (business commitment) both announced themselves as unavailable for selection. Then to cap it all, back row player Ollie Dakin also pulled out at short notice.
Ely kicked off towards the railway and were soon pressing hard. Cantabs were seemingly affected by the ground conditions and slippery ball more than the Tigers, and it was no surprise when Cantabs were pinned back in their own 22 by a couple of penalties for offences at the breakdown. Ely kicked to the left hand corner, secured their lineout ball and switched play across to the right where a determined run and two missed tackles allowed the try in the right hand corner; 0 - 5 after just five minutes. The first time Cantabs had been chasing the game all season.
Cantabs did mount one decent attack, soon after the restart, as Cantabs took the game to the Tigers. But this again petered out with yet another knock-on at the Ely 22. Another Cantabs attack was spoiled by an erratic pass to Ben Newman on the left wing. However, within minutes, the same player caught a long pass from James Hayward, which missed out both centres, and raced around the defence to score half way in on the left; all level at 5 - 5.
From the restart Ely were soon back in our red zone, aided by yet another penalty for a ruck offence. The Ely kicker was finding touch well to the left and when their lineout and maul reached the Cantabs line, open side, Will Rix was penalised yet again at the breakdown, and spent the next ten minutes watching from the touchline. Cantabs defence stood firm for most of that yellow card period, with Ely pressing hard. But eventually that pressure told as a sweeping move from the right wing, across to the opposite side resulted in a second try for the Tigers after 25 minutes play. Again this was not converted; but Ely were deservedly ahead at 5 - 10. Will's return restored us to a full complement, but Ely were still pressing hard and yet another penalty pushed back into the corner. Ely were also dominating the lineouts in the first half and Cantabs were desperately defending again. Too desperately, as it turned out, this time Danny Richards being yellow-carded for killing an Ely drive illegally. Cantabs defence stood up to the pressure but no sooner had we spoiled one attack than we knocked on or were caught offside, allowing Ely to pour back towards the Cantabs 22. At half time the score was still 5 - 10 and Glen pulled the team back into the dressing room for a few words of wisdom. That was definitely our worst half of the season.
Initially, those chosen words seemed to have a positive effect, as Cantabs started the second half with more aggression and purpose. Jonny Heaver misjudged the flight of a well directed clearing kick from Ely, only managing to tip the ball into touch on our 10m line. However Jonny was soon back in the action, halting a driving run from the Ely No 8 with a great tackle. The Ely man took exception to something though and kicked out at Jonny and was red carded. As the game restarted Danny Richards was allowed back into the game and Cantabs now had a one man advantage. The Cantabs scrum was starting to dominate, and in attacking positions all succeeding penalties were generally handed over to the pack. Cantabs moved into a great position down the right when a loose ball created by a fierce tackle from Perksy was hacked down the touchline by Ollie Townsend, forcing one of the Ely defenders to shuffle the ball into touch inside his 22. Now Ed Foster was dominating the lineout and the resulting maul forced play deeper into the 22. A penalty from Hayward gave rise to another 5m lineout in the right hand corner. Desperate defence followed, as did the penalty to Cantabs; scrum option chosen. Ely were pushed back in disarray and Ollie Townsend shot out from the back of the scrum as the ball became loose and in one diving movement scooped up the ball to go over for the try. Finlay's kick from the right hand touchline shaded past the left hand post; all square though at 10 -10.
First sub appeared for Cantabs, Charlie Norrish replacing Will Rix. James Hayward was now coming more into the game and at one stage Isaia Barbieri had to assume the role of scrum half. But Cantabs eventually lost the ball and yet another well placed kick from the Ely fullback was headed for touch down the left where Luke Farrow attempted to keep the ball in play. He palmed the ball back towards his full-back from outside touch, but only succeeded in knocking it into the path of the Ely left winger. He hacked on and was first to the ball as it crossed our line to score Ely's third try. A well struck conversion added the extra; 10 - 17 and Ely back in front with half an hour to go and a man down! Glen rang the changes, Perksy replaced by Ben Tozer and Fergus Wilson went onto the wing for Ben Newman. Cantabs were now winning all the scums and all the lineouts, Ed Foster time and again taking the ball or knocking it back to Ollie. A lovely spell of handling from Cantabs took the ball from our 22 up to the Ely 22, with phase after phase of good passing and rucking. Ely were now on the back foot and defending desperately.
Hayward kicked a penalty into the left hand corner, and Cantabs won the lineout. The backs then spun the ball wide over to the left but with the line beckoning the final pass to the right wing eluded Finlay. However the respite for Ely was short-lived, the resultant Ely scrum was won against the head, a couple more scrums later we saw the Cantabs pack pushing their opposite numbers back rapidly. This caused Ely to wheel the scrum illegally, and Sir awarded a penalty try; 17 -17.
Hayward was now calling the tune, but an attempted chip over the defence caught us offside and Ely attempted to win back the lead with a penalty attempt from well over 35m. This fell short and Cantabs tried to run the ball back, but offended yet again. Perksy was back on for Isaia. The next penalty to Ely came in a better position but was again missed, and that turned out to be the Tigers last chance. Now, there was only going to be one winner. Cantabs were now being awarded penalties and with Hayward kicking to the left and Cantabs scrum trundling the opposition backwards, progress was slow but only one way. Ely then incurred the wrath of the referee by deliberately killing the ball at a ruck in their own 22. After a long discussion as to whether the scrums would go uncontested following the removal of Ely's prop from the contest; the game was eventually restarted with a penalty scrum. Same result ensued as Ely deliberately wheeled to stop their reversing pack and Cantabs were awarded a second penalty try; 24 - 17. Cantabs' bonus point secured and with it the victory as the clock ran down.
Not a great game but certainly a competitive one and Ely left disappointed, but with their heads held high. Cantabs pack ground out the win, on a day when running rugby disappeared in the mud. Ten games played and ten try bonuses gained. However, Cantabs are still one point off leading the division as West Norfolk hammered Wisbech. Perksy and Tim Kirkconel were both more influential in the second half, but Man of the Match was awarded to Ed Foster for his work in the lineout.
1 Isaia Barbieri, 2 Tom Bailey, 3 Jon Perks, 4 Jonny Heaver, 5 Ed Foster,
6 Tim Kirkconel, 7 Will Rix, 8 Danny Richards (capt), 9 Ollie Townsend, 10 James Hayward,
11 Luke Farrow, 12 Andrew Tilley, 13 Paul Pudney, 14 Ben Newman, 15 Finlay Laing,
16 Ben Tozer, 17 Charlie Norrish, 18 Fergus Wilson.