Cantabs made the second trip in a month to Brentwood, having won the Senior Vase encounter by 34 points to 10. There were however nine players in the squad who had not played in that first encounter and looking at the Brentwood team it was apparent that they too had a much changed team. With Dean James on holiday, Adrian Clague back in NZ and Irish James unavailable, Cantabs had the untried combination of James Walton and Richard Kemp at halfback. Utility forward Jonny Heaver started at prop in the absence of Isaia Barbieri who was working back home in Italy.
The pitch was soft but perfectly playable, the weather overcast but dry. Brentwood kicked off and Cantabs were immediately on the offensive, making good ground. Charlie brought Sami into play from our first shortened lineout and we were in the opponents 22. The first Cantabs scrum lead to a penalty 20m out to the right of the posts. Ali slotted it through the uprights and with five minutes gone Cantabs were leading. OB came at us straight from the restart and following a lineout deep in our 22 on the left, some slack marking allowed their left winger to touch down in the corner. The conversion attempt failed, but it was game on at 5 – 3 to the home side.
James Walton tried a grubber kick for the restart, and for once it came off with the defender fumbling and allowing Ben to pick up and find a great touch ten metres out from the goal line. Brentwood cleared the danger from the lineout and started to look sharper in the loose with their wing forwards and second row up very quick on the ball. OB contrived to force us back deep into our own half and from a complete farce of a lineout their flanker broke clear to race along the left hand touchline and dived over in the corner. Again the kick was short but after15 minutes it was 10 – 3 and Cantabs looking shaky.
Jon Perks made a huge tackle on their rampaging 2nd row, stopping him in his tracks and winning the ball. Cantabs scrum was now starting to work to good effect, but neither side was making anything from the lineouts. Francois gathered the ball following a scrum infringement and took a quick tap and with the Brentwood defenders in his face. He then chipped the ball down our right wing into space and just failed to gather the ball. However, Richard Ford was on hand to scoop up the ball and sprint in virtually unopposed to touch down close to the posts. Ali made no mistake with the conversion and we were back on level terms at 10 points all; 25 minutes gone.
Both sides continued to make a complete mess of the lineouts, and from a misdirected Brentwood throw, Dan Searle was just unable to gather cleanly at the back of the line. Scrums were now being dominated by Cantabs, but our backs were getting precious little service apart from the popped up ball to Sami from James. OB were soon onto this ploy however and Sami was invariably trying to run through three defenders as the home side were allowing him no space at all. Brentwood rolling maul looked threatening at times and their place kicking was superior, with Cantabs hard won ground being negated by long clearing kicks. From such a kick, Cantabs won the ball from the lineout deep in their own 22 and Sami kicked mightily back to the Brentwood 10m line where it was gathered by the Brentwood centre, For his pains he met with a marauding Sami following up on his kick and lost the ball in the massive impact from our Fijian.
Cantabs then enjoyed a good spell of pressure in the OB half who were desperately defending; leading to a yellow card for their blindside flanker for spoiling in the ruck. Cantabs could not make their numerical advantage pay and despite some awesome problems for OB in the subsequent scrums and Cantabs forcing the ball towards the opponents line; there was no further score at half time.
Second half started much the same with Cantabs pressing and from an OB scrum which we disrupted we gained a penalty to the left of the posts on the edge of the 22. Ali’s kick faded away to the right of the posts, but at this stage we were well on top. Denman came on for Jonny and Tom replaced Skeggsy with Warren moving to blindside. Brentwood, restored to a full compliment of forwards promptly won their first scrum for 15 minutes, and moved into our half for the first time in the second period. Cantabs cleared the danger well with Ali into the line for the first time in the game, combining with Paul on the right, The move came to nothing but playing the advantage, we went back to the OB 22 line for the penalty. Ali made the kick from wide on the right and Cantabs were back in the lead at 10 – 13.
Euan Wilder took over at flyhalf, James Walton moving to outside centre. Five minutes later following more Cantabs pressure, we were awarded a further penalty centrally 30m out. Again Ali, kicked cleanly and Cantabs had a bit of breathing space at 10 – 16.
OB now started to apply their own pressure with their runners scything through our defenders to set up good positions deep in our half. Sami eventually broke clear of his tacklers and ran 30m into their 22 on the right. He chipped the ball forward when running out of steam only 15m from the line. Their blindside flanker touched the ball down and the chance had gone. OB were soon back in our half and Cantabs were now hanging on.
Deep into injury time, man of the match Sami off the field with cramp, OB got a penalty on our 22, and found touch 10m from the line on the left. For once, the throw was adjudged straighter than most, the maul formed and OB inched towards the line. Cantabs failed to get enough forwards in to halt the progress, the OB forwards pushed us over the line and made the score. Their kicker took his time, but from the 22, he made no mistake and the referee blew for time. Final score 17 – 16, and the Old Brentwoods team celebrated as though the league had been won.
As Kipling wrote: If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster and treat those two impostors just the same…..you'll be a Man, my son!
Defeat for Cantabs 1st XV came hard in the manner in which it finally arrived, but some harsh lessons were learnt, and the team will do well to remember them and come back stronger for the experience.
So, an away game we could and should have won, and needed to, to threaten the head of the divisional table. As it was, we started the day in sixth place in the league, four points behind the leaders, and ended it in fifth place, with this losing bonus point, five points behind the leaders. London 3NE is certainly a competitive division. Week eight of the league season has seen five different leaders and still the team that starts to win away from home will stand the best chance of end of season honours.
Next week Canvey Island return to Sedley Taylor Road seeking revenge for their cup defeat last week.