Another tough encounter expected with Ely unbeaten in eight games, giving added spice to the local derby. Prior to the match, the two teams and the large crowd joined in a minute's applause in memory of ex Cantabs player Jim Burns, who was tragically killed in a recent traffic accident. Jim was also a coach for the Ely U13 team, and it was his youngsters who acted as ball boys. We are sure Jim would have been pleased with the tribute and proud of his lads; and hopefully a good sum was raised on the day for his young family, from the various collections and sales.
Cantabs also contributed to the day's events by fielding a team of current and ex-players against the Ely Vets XV. Around 60 players took part in the earlier match, with Ely taking the honours by 3 points. Unfortunately both games were staged on the 1st team pitch, which was cutting up badly after the first game warm up!
For the 1st XV encounter Cantabs posted just a couple of changes, with Chris Walliker working in China, and Dan Searle on his travels as well; last week's subs Ben James and Louis Mann moved into the pack.
Ely kicked off with the wind at their backs, but Cantabs soon returned the ball into the Ely half, and following a lineout on the Ely 22, Cantabs mauled the ball right to the Ely line as the Tigers defence just seemed to melt away, and Ben James took the honours diving over to touch down after only three minutes; 0 to 5 and it was Cantabs were purring after an ideal start.
For the first ten minutes the play did not reach the Cantabs half, but when their fly half got some space, he looked dangerous. After 15 minutes another good move initiated by the Tigers No 10 forced Cantabs into touch deep in their own half on the right. Cantabs were equal to the threat this time but on 17 minutes Ely showed their mettle with the ball moved along the backs at speed, and to the delight of the Ely crowd, their full-back finished off the move in the corner; 5 to 5 and match on!
Cantabs were dominating the scrums and in the lineouts, Bevan Whyte was winning most of the Cantabs throws and a good proportion of the opposition's. The ball was greasy, and with the pitch a mud bath in places, good handling was difficult. However, both teams were now competing fiercely, and although the Cantabs pack was dominant, to say the least, the Ely half backs were playing very well and it was clear why the Tigers had put together a good run of wins.
Cantabs winger, Paul Graddage showed how dangerous he can be, with a great catch and run from within his own half, bringing the play well inside the Ely 22. This gave our pack the opportunity to dominate in the Ely red zone and following a scrum taken against the head, the advantage was pressed home by Isaia who took advantage to dive over from close in; 5 to 10 and a little breathing space for Cantabs after 26 minutes.
Bevan had to leave the field briefly for a blood injury, and our line-out suffered noticeably. Sami was showing his strength at Centre with some strong running, but when he did get clear the support was missing. Cantabs were now dominating again, and after a good series of passes from the backs and a penalty awarded within range, gave Ali a kickable penalty; 5 to 13, after 35 minutes.
No further score before half time and Ely seemingly still in with a shout. The second half started with a huge hit by Sami, but somehow Ely won a penalty and cleared the danger. Further memorable work by Bevan, snaffling a lot of the Ely lineouts, and Ben Farmer had a great run down the right wing, but all the good play from Cantabs was to no avail. Then suddenly after 45 minutes, Adrian burst through a gap to score centrally. Ali obliged with the kick and Cantabs got just deserts for their pressure. 5 to 20 and the Cantabs travelling faithful, girded by Ely curry and ale, were now raising the volume.
However, it was Ely who scored next after 56 minutes with a great burst through the Cantabs defence by their Centre, taking him almost to the try line. Cantabs were penalised, and the tap penalty from close in was shipped right at speed, for the right winger to touch down; 10 to 20.
Cantabs were soon back on the attack and a well struck penalty by Irish gave Cs the lineout in the left hand corner. The resultant catch and maul gave Bevan a very deserving try wide on the left. Ali duly obliged with the conversion; 10 to 27. Our fourth try and a valuable bonus point earned.
Cantabs were now the only team in the match and play was concentrated in the Ely half. Cantabs made their way into the right hand corner, but managed to knock on their lineout, a shell-shocked Ely pack opted for a lineout rather than take further punishment in the scrum. Their throw was caught by Bevan, the ball moved to the backs, left then right, and it was acting captain Warren Cowan that finally forced his way past the tiring Ely cover defence for a try close to the posts; 10 to 34 and job done. The Ely Tigers teeth well and truly blunted and as their coach said after the game, the local rivals firmly put in their place by the Cantabs pack, yet again!
So, here we are at Christmas, eleven league fixtures out of eleven won, and seemingly only Wisbech stand in the way of a Cantabs promotion year – or have I spoken too soon? Cantabs are now 2 points clear of their North Cambs rivals, and the squad is due to be strengthened by the return of Francois Eve and Cyril Journoux in the New Year.
For me the relentless running, tackling and rucking of our pack, the great service from scrum half Dean marked a great first half of the season. Isaia got voted man of the match, but it could have gone to any of the forwards. The team have strength in all positions and with our 2nd XV starting to enjoy winning in a league two levels above that of last season, we truly have depth in the playing squad for the New Year.
Next match, and a pre-match curry to warm you for £5, is on 7th January against Broadlands at Sedley Taylor Road; be there if you want to see some attacking rugby, and the start of phase two of a great Cantabs season.