Cantabs travelled into deepest Essex for the game against South Woodham Ferrers, who were higher placed in the Division and because they had only lost narrowly away to Norwich last week; a tough game was expected. Cantabs were still without scrum half Dean James and last weeks replacement James McCaughran . In the pack there were wholesale changes from the Harlow game; we were missing Warren Cowan and Chris Walliker at 2nd Row, Isaia Barbieri and Ben James. However John Perks was making his first start of the year at prop.
Ferrers kicked off in very bright sunshine on a well-grassed pitch in front of a good crowd. Charlie Searle caught the ball and went to ground. Cantabs rucked over and the forwards took the ball out of our 22, only to spill the ball. Scrum to Ferrers but Charlie had not recovered following a knee to the ribs, and after some physio left the field to be replaced by Denman. Ferrers won possession, we were at sixes and sevens and their forwards blasted through our defence to score on the left ten metres from the posts. The conversion was true and after two minutes play it was 7 - 0 to the home side.
Following some good forward running from first Jonnie then Tom, Cantabs reached the opponents 22, where we got our first crack at goal as the home side were penalised. Ali missed the kick to the left. Although Cantabs were pressing and having the best territorially, suddenly from halfway the SWF outside flanker stormed down the left hand touch line, avoiding four tacklers, and scored in the corner. This time their kicker failed, but it was 12 - 0 with only 12 minutes gone.
Cantabs were finding the aggressive tackling from their opponents was taking its toll and next to leave the pitch was Drew Tilley, Paul Graddage replaced him. Cantabs took the ball back into the Essex men's half and following a couple of penalties found themselves 5m from the line. Rich Ford opted for the scrum, which started to move forward but with the SWF pack in disarray, we opted to move the ball wide and lost possession. Our centres were looking strong, the lineout was working far better than the previous week and our scrum had the upper hand. Somehow SWF cleared the danger, another handling error from Cantabs when we were looking dangerous, gave them a chance to run back at us from within their own 22. The pace of their full-back was too much for our defence as he scorched down the right hand touchline, just getting the ball inside to their right winger, before being tackled close to the line. Easy try for the winger and a missed conversion made the score 17 - 0. Cantabs had been penalised three times for poor defence and handling errors; clinical finishing by SWF.
Dan Searle was putting in some great tackles, and Cantabs continued to press hard. At that point their dangerous No 7 was sin-binned, and Cantabs pressed home the numerical advantage. Following a good lineout the ball moved out to Francois on the left wing who made no mistake, using his strength and speed to touch down in the corner. Ali kicked the conversion from a metre wide of touch, and we were on the way at last; 17 - 7 after 30 minutes.
Cantabs continued to press with our scrum wheeling their put-in at ease. Ali stormed through from his own half, just failing to get the ball away inside their 22, but Cantabs were now calling the tune. SWF were restored to 15 men, but with two minutes to half time, following a penalty awarded to Cantabs on out 10m line, Ali started his familiar weaving run, from the quick tap. He moved outside three defenders to touch down in the left hand corner for a superb try.
Ali took as much time with the conversion as he could but was still breathless and missed as the kick faded right; but we were back in the game at 17 - 12. Halftime followed shortly afterwards, and the large home crowd were a lot quieter.
Five minutes into the second half with Cantabs were looking the stronger, but the game suddenly turned on its head when Dan Searle was sin-binned for a flailing arm that connected with an opponent. Foe a second time an outside flanker had been forced to take a 10 minute break. That 10 minutes proved disastrous for Cantabs.
Rich Ford tried to run the ball out of defence, was penalised for holding on, and SWF stormed forward from the lineout, with their No 7 picking up his well-earned second try in the right hand corner. The conversion was struck very well; 24 - 12.
Ferrers were now camped in our 22, Cantabs were penalised, and from the resultant 5m lineout, their captain muscled his way over the line. Another superb kick made the score 31 - 12. Dan came back on two minutes later, but for intents the game was over.
To their credit, Cantabs continued to worry the Ferrers defence with Sami continually forcing his way through tackles to drive the team into good positions. Skeggsy was now winning lots of good possession in the lineout and our scrum was holding up well. Harri came on for Francois and Ali had unsuccessful another pot at goal from 28m with 20 minutes still on the clock.
All the pressure was coming from Cantabs but with the home crowd encouraging them the Ferrers tacklers were up to the task. Their flyhalf was now playing well with some great clearing kicks. Ali tried running another one back and was just stopped ten metres from the SWF line. Sami and Perksy combined to knock holes through the centre yet again, but towards the end of the half their forwards started to dominate in the loose, and gained 30m as Cantabs tacklers were brushed aside. We were caught in possession holding on and the Ferrers flyhalf found touch inside our 22. The ball was moved left along their back line then switched the other way, pulling Cantabs apart, and allowing their right winger just enough space to dive into the corner. Five minutes to go but that sealed the victory for the Essex side, 36 - 12.
So Cantabs unbeaten run of 26 league games finally ends. We certainly found out that mistakes can be punished at this new level. I think it is fair to say we probably had 60% of the possession and territory, but our tackling and handling let us down. Ferrers kicked for touch far better and their forwards were as good as we have seen for two years. Our centres were very solid and Dan tackled like a demon throughout the game. Denman proved an able deputy at prop. We can compete in this league, but will need to get our best players out if we are going to win away from home. Overall the team needs to get fitter and get lower in the tackle.
Next week we are away yet again (that's four times out of five), with a Senior Vase fixture against Old Brentwoods.