Cantabs made yet another trip to the seaside for the game against Mersea Island; the high tide on the causeway across to the island meant a 10.30 start, and the team were, as a consequence, kicking their heels for two hours waiting for the kick-off. But at least we all made it, which is more than can be said about one of the opposition who was stranded on the mainland. One small compensation to the supporters for the long trip was the beer festival taking place close by.
Warren Cowan, Samisoni Kididromo and Charlie Searle were missing owing to injuries sustained against Wisbech. Mike Denman and Euan Wilder were drafted into the team and Tom Conder moved to second row, with the versatile Jonnie Heaver starting at hooker.
Cantabs kicked off down the slope and into the wind; the pitch was yielding after the recent rain. The Mersea pack was pretty big, so another physical game was expected. Initially, Mersea held their own in the scrums and through their inside centre and second row forwards were soon making their presence felt. Cantabs on the other hand seemed not to relish yet another battering and were on the back foot for the first ten minutes. So it was that the home side got the first chance to score when a failed clearance was charged down by the Essex men and they just failed to ground the ball before it ricocheted beyond the dead ball line. The let-off was short lived, because some further poor defensive work led to the Mersea inside centre scoring under the posts. Easy conversion and we were on the back foot at 7 to 0, with only 10 minutes gone.
Cantabs seemingly had not got over the long journey and a further two and a half hours of waiting around, because we were just not competing against a rampant Mersea pack in the loose, with their big men looking dangerous every time they ran at Cantabs, who were kicking away too much possession. Then suddenly a rather hopeful kick from Adrian deep into the Mersea half was fumbled, and there was a marauding Bevan picking up the loose ball to score in the corner; 7 to 5.
Mersea continued to press and were awarded a penalty right in front, for an easy three points. Cantabs then started to look more aggressive and it was the forwards that got us back in the game, with an impressive rolling maul, after a catch and drive on the Mersea 22, which was pulled down by Mersea when we were only 5 metres out. Penalty try awarded to Cantabs (perhaps a little premature), but we took it to move into the lead for the first time; 10 to 12 after 25 minutes.
30 minutes into the game, a Cantabs scrum, gave us possession on the right on the Mersea 10 metre line, Dean switched the ball to Ali coming through on the blindside at speed, who made ground and just got the ball away to our right winger, Paul Graddage, who dived over right in the corner for a good score; 10 to17.
Bevan left the field briefly for a blood break, with Ian Watkins taking over at blindside. Then, following persistent infringements, and warnings, at the breakdown, Mersea lost their left winger for ten minutes.
35 minutes: the Mersea fly-half tried to run the ball clear in his own 22, knocked on when tackled and Adrian pounced on the loose ball to sprint through the static Mersea defence to go in under the posts. Easy conversion for Ali this time made the score 10 to 24. Fourth try and a bonus point earned.
Cantabs were now stealing the ball in the lineouts and pushing a tiring Mersea pack off the ball on their scrum – Cantabs were starting to dominate, but half time came without further score.
A refreshed Mersea side came out again strongly at the start of the second half and with some fierce tackling, and running from their fly-half and big men, made their way deep into the Cantabs 22. Cantabs pack won the ball 10 metres out from our line, but Dean fumbled the ball in goal, recovered somehow, tried to rum the ball out to the left, lost the ball again and the Mersea right winger touched down; 15 to 24 only 5 minutes into the second half.
Cantabs then started to dominate, moving the ball well through the backs, only to be denied tome and again by the Mersea defence. Then a clearing kick from the Mersea fly-half was caught by Francois out on the left wing deep in his own half. The winger ran diagonally past the first two Mersea players, straightened up as he reached half way, cut back inside one man and rounded two more, to go over the line on the left. The best try of the game, to make the score 15 to 31 after 55 minutes, after a good kick from Ali.
Mersea made ground from the kick-off aided by a dropped catch, and the Islanders were suddenly up for the fight briefly, winning a penalty which they ran. Dean was yellow carded for not retreating – perhaps a little harshly for a first offence.
Then our Kiwi fly half showed just how well he can kick. Adrian ran at Mersea from just inside the Cantabs half, chipped over the defence, gathered the ball, chipped over the next man, gathered again, and kicked wide to the right where Paul just failed to gather as the ball went out on five metres. Another great backs run following on from a Dan Searle run, linked Ben Farmer and Paul on the right. The ball went forward however and Mersea got the scrum 10 metres out from their line. Rich Ford went to scrum half, and the seven men in blue and white pushed the heavier Essex pack off their own ball. Dan Searle was first to the ball and shot through the defenders to touch down. Another great score, which rather knocked the stuffing out of Mersea. Ali’s kick failed but with 15 minutes to go we were 15 to 36 and now playing some good rugby. Dean came back on, and Chris Walliker gave way for Ian Watkins.
Tom Conder won the ball in his own half and made good ground, firstly Bevan took it on then Dan Searle, who was now running the Essex men ragged, made further progress, the ball was passed to Ben who moved the ball out to the right to Euan. He timed his pass to Paul superbly for an easy try in the right hand corner. Conversion from Adrian was just wide, but the score was now 15 to 41, with ten minutes to go. Chris Lovett replaced Paul, and quickly settled in with a couple of tackles, but the Essex men were spent, their big men now not quite so big.
The final whistle came with no further score, and Cantabs had made it 19 league wins out of 19. Man of the match was given to Dan Searle for his offensive running in the second half. Special mention should go to Mike Denman, who played the whole game at prop, showing that Cantabs have a good youngster for the future. Our scrum stood up very well against a large pack, and our lineout also performed well, with Jonnie throwing in for the first time this season.
Not the greatest Cantabs performance by any means, but it was actually the worst home defeat, by far, that the Islanders had suffered all season. Mersea are a much better side at home, having restricted Wisbech to four point win, but eventually they tired and Cantabs punished them.
One league fixture to go; at home next week against West Norfolk, where you can cheer our Champions on in their efforts to retain their 100% league record. We have a pre-match luncheon and as Del Boy would say the players significant others will hopefully be on hand to share in the glory of a winning season. Cantabs are on the way back!