Cantabs travelled into deepest Essex yet again for the game against Old Brentwoods, who had been promoted from Essex League, and were a place below in the Division. However this encounter was the 1st round of the Senior Vase and a combination of holidays and injuries meant there were eight new names to the starting line-up. Dean James was back at scrum half, following injury in the first game of the season. Mike Denman and the adaptable Jonnie Heaver were propping and winger Francois Eve was invited to hook. The second row gave debut starts to Ed Kirkham and Henry Taylor, Bevan Whyte made the journey up from London to help out before he journeys back to NZ.
With a good set of backs, and an experimental front five in the pack, the coaching team had asked that our forwards get the ball out wide as often as possible. A complete change of emphasis from that seen over the last couple of seasons. Cantabs started brightly on a glorious rugby afternoon, the fantastic surface was ideal for open rugby and a very wide pitch would assist wing play. So it was that only three minutes into the game, Paul Graddage received the ball on halfway, skirted the opposition defence and sprinted in at the corner; 0 to 5 and Cantabs were up and running.
Three minutes later another great move started by Dean, who beat three players muscling forward and supported by Denman, saw Ali finish off under the posts. This time Adrian had no trouble with the conversion and Cantabs had 12 points on the board. OB were looking a little shell-shocked.
The first three scrums all went to Cantabs, one against the head, so the wholesale changes in the pack seemed to have little effect and in the lineouts, Bevan was back to his majestic best. It was from a lineout catch that Ali came into the line with one of his trademark runs and was just pulled up deep in the Brentwood 22.
For the first 20 minutes Cantabs seemed to be camped in the opposition half and mostly in their 22. The backs were throwing the ball out to Harri on the right wing and he was enjoying the space with some very incisive running. It was following one of these runs that Brentwood were penalised for going over in the ruck, Adrian stepped up to take the kick from the edge of the 22, and the score was now 0 – 15 after 24 minutes. At this point Francois had to retire with an injured neck stating “I am not strong enough for scrummaging at present”. Shame, because our front row had performed very well up to that point. Mikey Goode took over at hooker.
Dean was now back to his marauding best, taking the ball from deep in our 22, up to halfway, supported by Dan Searle who was on his shoulder, Adrian grubber kicked the ball through into the opposition and a dashing Irish James just failed to gather the rolling ball 5 metres from the line. Cantabs were not to be denied however following pressure from Adrian, Paul and Bevan, Brentwood recovered the ball when it went loose but only succeeded in dropping it close to their own line and under pressure from James Walton who swooped on the error to pick up and dive over the line in the left hand corner making the score 0 – 20. The last move of the half saw Dean somehow avoid three tacklers at the base of the scrum, and get the ball away, where Harri showed his pace again with a searing run down the right into the 22. The half was over, and OB had had one shot at goal from 40m, had been in our 22 only twice – Cantabs were dominant.
Brentwood came out with more fire in their bellies for the second half but handling errors from their backs under pressure were their undoing on two occasions. Cantabs finally worked their way into the OB half, Bevan won the lineout and we were into their 22, before knocking on. Brentwood won the scrum under great pressure, and Dean snaffled the ball from his opposite number. With only 12 metres from the line and the ball in hand, Dean is nearly unstoppable, and so it was, he dived over close to the posts, conversion by Adrian; 0 – 27 after 55 minutes.
Next score went to the home side. They managed to hold onto their own scrum, moved the ball very smartly across the pitch to their right winger who just made the line in the corner. 5 – 27 and OB were looking a little more confident. Josh replaced Adrian at flyhalf for the last quarter. The OB backs were looking more menacing and another dangerous move was just halted by Paul tackling their right winger into touch. Cantabs were still throwing the ball about, a long pass from Josh was fumbled, and the OB left winger, this time, intercepted and touched down in the left hand corner. Again their kicker just failed with the conversion; 10 – 27 and Cantabs needed to concentrate.
All the pressure was now coming from Cantabs, our scrummaging and lineout play was back to its dominant best. Harri took a knock to his left arm and was replaced by Adrian; Josh moving out to the right wing. Adrian was glad to be back in the action, following a scrum on the opposition 22, he decided to run at the OB defence, beat two men and passed out left to a swooping Irish James who outpaced the winger and raced round close to the posts to make the kicker’s job easier. Adrian obliged, the referee signalled time up and Cantabs were back on the winning trail at 10 – 34.
Next week we are back at Sedley Taylor Road for only the second time this season. A host of 1st XV players have indicated that they are available and we will need to play at our best as Upminster, our opponents, are divisional leaders.