Cantabs played host to Surrey Division 1 club, Old Wimbledonians, at Sedley Taylor Road in the 5th round of the RFU Junior Vase. For this match we were without a recognised fly-half, and centre James Walton stepped up to take over from the injured Adrian Clague. James McCaughran and Euan Wilder were also absent on school ski trips, so Ben Farmer partnered Sami Kididrono at Centre. Good to see Francois Eve making his first start for four months.
The pitch was still pretty sticky, having had several inches of water standing on it up to Tuesday, as a result of the four inches of snow melting the previous weekend. Cantabs kicked off into the wind and soon had a chance to test the OW scrum. Cantabs pack certainly had the weight advantage and this was showing early on. However after only eight minutes play with Cantabs trying to force the pace halfway into the OW half, a loose pass was snaffled by OW and their centre ran clear through to touch down on the left. 0 to 5 and Cantabs rather shell-shocked.
Time and time again the diminutive OW half backs cleared up behind the scrum with probing kicks over our attacking forwards and pushing Cantabs right back to start another wave of attacking movement. OW were slaughtered in the scrums but somehow their hooker was able to win ball whilst running backwards!
OW held out somehow for the first 20 minutes, but eventually Cantabs pressure paid off with a penalty awarded 10 metres out from the OW line bang in front of the posts. Much to Martin Gooch’s annoyance we turned down the kick and opted for the scrum. This we duly won with ease (we never lost one all match on our ball), and trundled forward with Rich Ford controlling the ball at the back. The scrum moved over the OW goal line but their scrum half touched the ball down. OW switched the ball right to their fullback, but James Walton charged down the kick, and Chris Walliker was on hand to touch down. Ali kicked the conversion and Cantabs took the lead, 7 to 5. At that point some of felt that would open the floodgates, but it was not to be, Cantabs continued to dominate with their forwards, but with a greasy ball and perhaps, and some frantic passing we knocked the ball on time and time again. The resultant OW scrums usually resulted in a wheeled scrum or some heroic saves as the ball rocketed out on their side. Cantabs just could not turn their forward domination into points.
A Cantabs error on 25 minutes, and OW found themselves with a penalty shot at goal from 30m. A well struck kick and suddenly OW had the lead again at 7 to 8.
Cantabs continued to press furiously, continued to knock on, and lose the impetus. Then disaster, two minutes of the first half remained, when our over-ambitious play resulted in yet another interception from the halfway line for an OW touchdown close to the posts. The try was converted, so at half time Cantabs were down 7 to 15.
Cantabs brought on Isaia Barbieri for Cyril at halftime. The forwards remained dominant, the scrums continued much as before – and there were many, with Cantabs continuing the run of handling errors. OW were now firmly camped in their own half, their clearing kicks not having the same effect against the wind and rain.
Halfway through the 2nd half Cantabs were well in control but had not looked like scoring. Jonnie Heaver, having worked his socks off in the loose, was replaced by Ben James, and Drew came on for Ben Farmer.
Then with ten minutes left on the clock, Warren Cowan intercepted an OW pass 40 metres out and crossed the line for a try wide on the right. 12 to 15, and Cantabs were back in with a chance.
Then with just three minutes to go; suddenly a kick from Dean James over the OW defence was followed up by a Dan Searle at speed, to win the ball and a scrum just outside their 22. Cantabs duly won the scrum and moved relentlessly towards the OW line, with their big men battering the OW defence time and time again. After about six or seven phases, a final maul gave the glory to Isaia; 17 to a5, with Ali’s kick just shaving the wrong side of the post.
Somehow Cantabs ran the clock down, despite OW making a rare incursion into our 22 at the death. The whistle came as somewhat of a relief to players and supporters alike.
So a scrappy win – but a win at this stage in a National Cup is still very acceptable. Cantabs therefore moved into the London/SE Region semi-final of the Junior Vase for the second year running. We are the only Eastern Counties side left in the competition and the semi-final will be played next week in Barnes, against London Exiles, leaders in Surrey 1, who beat Wisbech 19 to 13.
Both teams gave their all in difficult conditions, the result was in doubt right through to the end. Our commiserations to OW for losing with just two minutes left on the clock. For Cantabs, it will hopefully be a wake up call; we will surely never lose possession so much in a game again. From now on in every match will be a cup final. We will now have to play catch up on Wisbech in the league, as the cup takes preference in the fixture list.
Your team can still boast a 100% record for the season, and our cup run continues…… watch this space!