Lots of changes to the team for the trip to Woodbridge for the game against the Warriors. Cyril Journoux was making his first start for three months at hooker; Isaiah Barbieri having travelled over to Italy to collect his PhD (who says props only have two brain cells). Louis Mann was at the unaccustomed scrum half position in the absence of Dean James and Adrian Clague; and this was to be Louis’ last game of the season as he is leaving for Italy. Chris Walliker was back in at second row for Bevan, who has been called back to NZ by the army. Paul Graddage returned on the right wing after injury, Euan Wilder made his first start of the New Year at centre and Tom Wakeley was on the left wing as a replacement for Ben Farmer (hamstring injury). Richard Ford and coach Mick Jones joined Mikey Goode on the bench.
Woodbridge kicked off in bright sunlight, on a near perfect surface, in front of a large and vociferous crowd, that had obviously been well fed and watered. Cantabs were soon rucking well and eventually moved the ball back into the Warriors half through a good run by Paul Graddage. After 5 minutes Cantabs were awarded a penalty 25m out and central – and to the coaches’ consternation chose to scrum! This one came to nought but 5 minutes later with the ball moved left at speed through the backs, Ali McCormick broke free to score at ease under the posts. His chipped conversion was successful; 0 to 7 and Cantabs on the way.
Woodbridge came back strongly from the restart and won a scrum just inside our 22. But the scrum was wheeled through 90 by Cantabs and possession gained. This was to become the pattern of scrums throughout the game with the Warriors never getting to grips with our pack and rarely winning decent ball from any scrums. Jon Perks with a great drive through the Warriors defence that moved the ball nearly 40m, and following good rucking and phases Cantabs were soon back in the opposing 22. Cyril went very close to scoring but the Warriors managed to clear. Then after 22 minutes, Paul Graddage made good ground on the right, the ball was recycled left through Ali, Euan and James Walton then moved back inside to Irish James who scored close to the posts; 0 to 14 with a straightforward conversion by Ali.
A period of Woodbridge pressure followed but with their winger shepherded into touch by Ali, the attack fizzled out and Cantabs won the resultant lineout; Charlie burst through the line to make 30m, but knocked on in the tackle on halfway. Needless to say, Woodbridge did not fancy the scrum and despite their No 9 feeding in the ball into the second row, consistently, lost yet another scrum. Woodbridge then regained possession and moved into our half again, kicked through and Warren leapt high to gather the ball over the try line to avert the danger. The referee had spotted a late tackle and awarded a penalty on our 22. This brought the crowd to life as the kick was successful; 3 to 14.
35 minutes, Irish James’ clearing kick was followed up by the flying Paul Graddage, who tackled the defender and took him and the ball into touch on the Warriors 22. The lineout was safely caught, Warren ran round the line onto the blindside and raced through for a touchdown in the corner, brushing aside the Woodbridge left winger in the process. 3 to 19 and about this time the Woodbridge scoreboard operator lost interest in the task. No further score in the first half.
Cantabs kicked off into the low sun for the second half and were soon putting Woodbridge under pressure. Charlie ran through on the right was supported by most of the pack who showed great passing skills before shipping the ball to the backs on the left. When play broke down, Woodbridge were penalised for offside. Ben James took a quick tap and dived over the line for a great score. Ali converted to make the score 3 to 26. Bonus point gained by Cantabs for the fourth try.
60 minutes into the game with Cantabs camped in the Woodbridge 22, and following perhaps seven or eight phases of rucks from ten metres out, Charlie Searle finally broke through wide on the left to touch down. Conversion was unsuccessful so score was 3 to 31. At this point Richard Ford joined the game as a replacement for Dan Searle. Welcome back to the captain for his first game in two months. Dan was not amused as before long Cyril went down with cramp after a good run, and had to leave the action, being replaced by Mikey Goode. Then Chris Walliker went over on his ankle and this gave the chance for coach Mick Jones to make his playing debut at scrum half, Louis moving to flanker. Mick’s first pass from cold hands was weak, but subsequently he actually looked the part and was soon dictating the play.
Woodbridge, to their credit, never gave up, and urged on by their noisy support finished the match strongly, although never looking likely to breach the Cantabs defence. The match concluded with no further score, and at the close Woodbridge were cheered off the pitch by their supporters. Cantabs came through the game well, and it speaks volumes for their standard that Woodbridge were delighted that they had restricted us to five tries. Chris Walliker’s ankle will be a concern for next week's cup tie away to Southwold, but despite the many changes it is clear that Cantabs have a squad now that can compete well against anyone in this league.
Richard Ford was dominant in the lineout when he did get on the pitch, and he looks to be fit for next week. The scrum was awesome, as usual, our backs looked dangerous, and Woodbridge had no answer to our rolling maul when we did use it. Warren probably had one of his best games of the season, but it was blindside flanker, Ben James, that got the man of the match award for his try and all round contribution. Good to see a back row forward getting the accolade for once, in a pack where our front five have destroyed everything put in front of them this season.
This win keeps us at the top of the division, our nearest challengers, Wisbech, found Broadlands a bit of a handful as well; only winning 17 to 11, and thus failing to make a bonus point – we are therefore three points clear at present.
Footnote, to last week’s game against Broadlands:
Captain Richard Ford, ex Broadlands player, and Cantabs lead singer, was kidnapped by the Broadlands team and ended up in Great Yarmouth after the game. Luckily for him, they did allow him to return to the “welcoming” arms of his wife on Sunday.