Cantabs made a second long trip for the second week running; this time into deepest Suffolk for the fixture against Beccles, who had won their first league match easily. So, the many team changes forced onto Steve Drawbridge gave some of the small band of Cantabs supporters a little concern. Cyril Journoux, Chris Walliker and Adrian Clague were unavailable, and injuries had caused the withdrawal of Jon Perks, Dean James and Finlay Wilson.
Irish James (McClaughran) filled the scrum half spot, with Josh Schmit taking over at flyhalf. Danny James came out of retirement to fill the hooker slot and James Walton started at Centre. The bench was made up players making their first appearance of the season, including winger Harri Beasley making his 1st XV debut. Steve Drawbridge and Mick Jones also had to juggle with the new rules on substitutes. Eight subs are allowed through the course of a match (including blood substitutions) with players able to rejoin having been previously withdrawn.
Cantabs kicked off into the slight wind, but in bright sun and a good playing surface. The kick failed to make the 10m so we had the first chance to look at our scrum. Beccles survived to take possession but never made it over halfway and for the first five minutes it was Cantabs making all the running, with great kicks into their 22 by Irish James, Josh and James Walton, pinning the home team in their own 22. Then after 6 minutes Cantabs transgressed, and were penalised, but Beccles persisted in discussing the matter with Sir and the kick was reversed. Up stepped Ali, and slotted home the kick from the left (according to both myself and Mr Walton Snr, when we were stood right behind the kick). However, the Beccles touch judge called it wide, and so no score,
After 10 minutes of pressure from Cantabs, Beccles were awarded a penalty on the 10m line, centrally, but the kick was wide. Beccles continued to press down their left flank and Paul Graddage was last man as he made the saving tackle on their winger. Jonnie Heaver and Charlie Searle linked well to take the ball back into the Beccles half, and the resultant pressure from Cantabs kept the ball in their 22 through six phases of possession, until Beccles found touch 10m out. We won the lineout but managed to knock on.
Cantabs then took the ball back against the head for the first time and continued to push hard for the elusive try. Beccles were forced to transgress and after 30 minutes Ali had another chance from out wide on the right, the ball just fading away to the left of the posts where Beccles tried to run in back. They failed to get out of the dead ball area and we won a 5m scrum. Despite our superiority in the scrum we chose to run it wide and messed up completely. Beccles cleared, under pressure; Paul Graddage ran it back and then shipped the ball wide to opposite winger Francois, who managed to avoid two tackles before going to ground. So the pressure from Cantabs continued until 5minutes from half time when Beccles made a rare incursion into our half, and pressed hard down the middle, with Cantabs tackling furiously. Drew was too keen at the ruck, was adjudged to have entered from the side, and Beccles took their penalty from 10m out - 3 to 0 to Beccles. Cantabs tried hard to get back at them before the half-time whistle, but to no avail. Beccles it was who finished the half stronger, with some great defence from Francois on his own line preventing a try from their big prop. Some great tackling from Danny Searle at the end of the half and a good clearing kick from Paul, but Cantab tries were looking rather remote at this stage.
So at half time we had enjoyed 70% of the territory and possession, the scrums were working well, Rich Ford was winning our ball in the lineout; but we had failed to score. One or two of us were a little concerned. Ben James came on for Tom Conder and Harri replaced Francois.
Only two minutes into the second half and it was a different story. Paul Graddage beat two men on the right, cutting inside and there was Ali in support; he weaved around the cover tacklers to touch down under the posts. Ali made it 3 to 7 with the simple conversion - nothing to worry about then.
James and Drew at centre were cutting out anything Beccles tried down the middle. Their main danger seemed to be down their left wing. Isaia assumed the mantle of Perksy and continued to charge at the Beccles forwards. Our scrum was still dominant. Danny James took a break and Mike Denman joined the scrum with Charlie moved to hooker. A limping Jonnie Heaver left to be replaced by a rejuvenated Tom Conder. Tom, Ben and Denman then joined Isaia, Skeggsy and Charlie in knocking seven bells out of the Beccles pack as Cantabs mounted attack after attack.
Fifteen minutes into the half a good clearing kick from the Beccles full-back was caught by Ali just inside our half. Ali stood waiting for the follow-up, fainted to pass, and then proceeded to ghost down the left touchline past six defenders, touching down in the corner for a great try.
His kick from the touchline just fell under the crossbar; 3 to 12 and the Cantabs faithful could relax. Ali then made it 15 points for himself and the team with a great strike from 30m out.
Beccles then came back into the game, willed on by a sizeable crowd. Drew took the ball into a ruck, our support was ineffective for once, and Beccles out-rucked us for the first time, span the ball out to the left, where their danger man just avoided Paul and the cover tackle from Ali to score in the corner. The conversion was a superb one from the touchline and suddenly it was 10 to 15. Game on, and Beccles were looking dangerous. Jonnie came back on to bolster the scrum, and Drew was replaced by Francois at centre. Dan Searle continued to tackle like a demon, Josh kicked intelligently and Beccles never created pressure again, Tom started to get aggressive like a good second row should. Then with 5 minutes to go Denman took the ball to the opposition, winning valuable ground down the centre up to their 22m line, and off-loaded to Rich on his shoulder. He waltzed through the defence to touch down under the posts, receiving very unnecessary knee to the head in the process (as was the bite Irish received from their No 2 earlier in the game). Ali tried to take the full 90 seconds for the easy conversion, much to the annoyance of the Beccles population; then missed! Score was 10 to 20.
We ran time down and so after two away fixtures the lads remain undefeated in league matches for 24 games; our last league defeat being that at Holt in March 2011. We are now handily placed in the division with six points from two away games. A great team performance from all eighteen players. Cantabs were very solid down the spine of the team. Beccles centres were not given any space and our forwards were impressive yet again, despite the many changes. Irish James and Josh, for an untried pairing, did well, and the whole team tackled very well. Next week we start our home campaign, with Harlow the visitors. Jeff Railton will have dusted off his BBQ tools and will be on duty for the pre-match feast; join me for some traditional fare and a good game of rugby.
Yesterday, the Club had three teams on duty, each with substitutes – and not too many local clubs can boast that nowadays. Things are heating up at Sedley Taylor Road and it's not just the charcoal.