The County Cup Final against London 2 side Saffron Walden was billed to be a real test for Cantabs. Walden had reported to the Cambridge News that their team would be their strongest of the season, and their coach was pre-loaded with champagne. For Cantabs, Chris Walliker was away in China, Francois Eve was away on wedding planning, and Irish James had been called up by his school on an educational trip. The bank holiday weekend had also meant additional changes.
Cantabs kicked off with a north-westerly wind blowing across the pitch slightly in their favour. The Ely pitch was surprisingly good after a fortnight of rain, but bad rabbit damage on the far touchline. Cantabs started the game very well with our scrum surprising Walden's pack with their power. Adrian Clague's kick ahead was gathered and the first chance of the game went to the marauding John Perks, who spilled the ball when over the line and looking certain to score. From the resultant five yard scrum Cantabs won the ball back against the head. We got the put in as a result, and after clean heel, Walden were penalised. Ali knocked over the kick, and with just two minutes gone we were 3 to 0, and on the way.
Early handling errors kept Walden in the game, but our rucking and tackling was furious and Cantabs were dominating the play with Walden's forwards looking shell-shocked. The pressure of our scrum was telling and a scrum to Walden just outside their 22 line was spoilt by our pack, causing the outside flanker to transgress and earn a ten minute break after only 10 minutes play. This time Ali missed from 28 metres out. Sami was now knocking holes through the centre, and a typical run from our Fijian centre saw him right through only to lose control, with one man to beat.
Then 15 minutes into the game a poor dropout by Walden resulted in the ball being run back by Adrian on the left, who shifted the ball inside to fellow Kiwi Ben Farmer, who passed inside again to Dan Searle who had switched inside from the left wing, and it was Dan who ran in under the posts unopposed. Walden were looking a little concerned, and it was a straightforward kick from Ali to make the score 10 to 0. As yet Walden had not been in our half.
Walden finally made it into Cantabs territory but to no effect, as Dean James was next in on the action. He took a tap penalty and his typically aggressive run took him forty metres straight back into the Walden 22. This led to yet another chance, this one falling to Warren Cowan who lost control at the vital moment. But a Walden put in was of no real concern as our scrum just continued to dominate and to make life unbearable for the Walden halfbacks with poor service from a retreating scrum. Our lineout had also been going well with captain Rich Ford winning more than his fair share of ball with a series of great catches. Then on eighteen minutes captain Richard appeared to land badly in a lineout and after lengthy treatment by both teams' physiotherapists, eventually left the field with a suspected broken ankle. This brought Josh Schmit on for his first team debut. He took over from Dan on the left wing; Dan moving to No 7, and the versatile Jonnie Heaver went to No 8. Bevan Whyte took over the main jumping role from Rich and our lineout continued to function very well. Adrian's kick found touch deep in the Walden 22. Bevan caught the ball, Cantabs moved to mauling mode and it was Warren Cowan who was last up with the ball as we moved across the line for try number two. Ali converted and with 20 minutes gone Cantabs were cruising at 17 to 0.
Walden then got a chance to open their account when Cantabs were penalised centrally on our 22 line. However, the wind was on our side, the kick was not successful and Cantabs breathed more easily. The Walden fullback now started to run well and some desperate defence from Cantabs saved the day.
Then the try of the season; with nothing on Adrian, wide out on the right, midway into the Walden half, put a cross kick over to the left wing. Josh caught the ball superbly, immediately passed inside to the supporting Ben Farmer, who passed inside again, and over his head, to a charging Ali McCormick to run through unopposed under the posts. Huge cheers from the Cantabs supporters as Ali touched down. Again, a simple conversion from Ali, with the crowd still buzzing; making the score 24 to 0.
Walden did come back at us soon after, but Paul Graddage pulled off a great saving tackle to stop their marauding outside centre. Cantabs finished the half on the attack again, but there was no further score when the referee blew for half time. A fantastic half of rugby from Cantabs, with Walden looking down and out.
Walden were not done however and immediately their fly-half started to play, running at our defence and looking menacing. Our tackling was ferocious however, and although we started the half on the back foot, Walden just could not make serious in roads. Walden then made their second change to the pack; this time at hooker. Our front row had certainly done their job. Then, a lapse of concentration, led to Walden racing through on the left, from well inside their own half. Ali's last ditch tackle just failing and the Walden left winger touched down right in the corner. The conversion failed but Walden were finally on the score-sheet at 24 to 5, ten minutes into the second half.
Cantabs came straight back with a score of their own. It all started with a lineout won on the right, inside the Walden 22. Dean moved the ball left, Sami cut back inside to the right, and the backs combined to put Paul Graddage away. He evaded two last-ditch tackles to just make the line. Ali's kick faded away to the right with the wind, but Walden's recovery had been negated with 58 minutes gone. Score now 29 to 5.
A Cantabs rolling maul put Cyril through on the left, but he was stopped just short of the line and got back to his feet very slowly. So it was, as we moved into the last quarter that Walden made their third substitute; this time at second row, and Cyril also took a well-earned break. Mike Denman took over at prop and Charlie moved to hooker. The changes did not seem to effect our scrummaging, with Walden continuing to be pushed backwards and having to feed into their second row to have any chance at all of decent ball. The Walden fullback and fly-half continued to look class acts and continually threatening to break our line. Our guys were tackling their hearts out, but perhaps now a little tired. Adrian's clearing kicks were superb throughout and Dean was hoisting high clearances back down the line from lineouts and scrums, but it was Walden looking the more likely to score with the wind at their backs.
Walden now changed their No 8. Cantabs continued to hold out, until the Walden fly-half finally found a way through, to touch down at the posts, for a well deserved try, following some great runs that he made in the second half. The conversion from right in front brought the score to 29 to 12.
Twice Paul went close on the right, once being shunted into touch at the corner flag, following a typical blindside run from Ali from our scrum. Denman actually got over the line with a powerful drive from ten metres out, following another great rolling maul, but he was held up.
There was no further score, as the Cantabs defence held out well over the last ten minutes. The referees whistle sounded to joyous celebrations, and Rich Ford was carried on by our supporters to join his team and to receive the County Cup. Our first Cambs trophy for around thirty years
So ends a great season. 26 wins from 27 games. Points for 1,002; points against just 237. Player of the year was Jonnie Heaver. Players’ player of the year was Jon Perks and the Most Improved award went to Michael Denman. Rightly, all of these were forwards. It was our pack that destroyed every team they met, and gave the foundation for all those victories. 37 players in total played for the 1st XV, with Dean and Ali joint top try scorers in competitive matches.
Our thanks to Ely for hosting the Final, but please sort those rabbit holes on the far side. On this season’s form, we will be hard to beat in London 3, and looking at this performance against Walden, could probably give a good account of ourselves in London 2.
Dates for your diaries: AGM is on May 30th, Summer Ball is on July 21st.