Cantabs renewed acquaintances with Canvey Island for this London 3NE fixture, having narrowly defeated them in the Senior Vase only two weeks previously; also at Sedley Taylor Road. Samisoni Kididromo was a late withdrawal from the squad, giving winger Tom Skelton his 1st XV debut. Finlay Wilson joined James Walton at Centre and James McCaughran took over at flyhalf.
The pitch was very wet but despite the heavy rain in the second half of the week there was no standing water; but it was still raining. Cantabs kicked off in their yellow change strip and it was clear from the outset that it was not going to stay yellow for too long. The early pressure was very much from Cantabs with Richard Ford seemingly in the thick of the action at every opportunity. Canvey cleared their line under immense pressure from our forwards who seemed to be relishing the mud. The early clearing kicks from the Canvey flyhalf and our own Irish James McCaughran signalled the way the game had to move, but it was a hack through the middle by Tom Skelton that opened up the Islanders defence. Tom was first to the skidding ball for one more kick before touching down close to the posts. Ali did the honours with the conversion and after just seven minutes play it was 7-0 to Cantabs.
Handling was very difficult with a greasy ball and in the first quarter it was all Cantabs dominant in both lineout and scrum. Our flankers were up on the Canvey line very quickly and all the Islanders could do was punt the ball to safety whenever they chanced upon it. Then from a Canvey scrum in their own half, Cantabs shoved them off the ball, Richard Kemp picked up and made the break and it was Paul Graddage who picked up at the ruck to dive over for a well deserved try wide on the left. Ali’s kick just shaved the far post, but with 20 minutes on the clock it was now 12-0.
Canvey then started to play and for ten minutes put us under quite a deal of pressure, continually pushing us back in our own 22 with some great kicking and competing well without threatening the try line. Rich Ford was winning a lot of their ball as well as our own in the lineouts and it was this factor that restricted the away side’s progress, despite their superior place kicking. However, in reward for their pressure, Canvey gained a penalty on the edge of the 22 to the left of the posts and their No 10 made no mistake; 12 - 3 after 25 minutes.
The half continued with Cantabs pressing hard again but often penalised for going offside and not staying on their feet at the ruck (not easy in the conditions). But as most of the play was well outside their kicker’s range for goal attempts, he was restricted to finding touch, which he invariably did with a great display of kicking. Cantabs were more disciplined than the earlier fixture against the same opponents – when the same kicker kept the Islanders in the game with four penalties; so it seems we had learnt the lesson. Cantabs finished the half on the ascendancy with our forwards showing their handling skills with some lovely close quarters inter-passing which brought us to within 10m of the opponents’ line. The move foundered in the mud and the whistle went for half time.
Isaia replaced Denman at prop, and if Canvey thought the scrums might get easier, they soon had a rude awakening! Tom Conder replaced Dan Searle, with Jonnie moving to flanker. It was Isaia that was first to attack the Islanders line with a great drive out of the ruck. The resultant 5m scrum to Cantabs was rather messed up and Canvey withheld some fierce pressure as their line was continually threatened by our scrum. A penalty was finally rewarded and Rich opted for the kick wide on the left (shades of England?) when us “experts” on the line were calling for a kick to the corner and more action, We were proved right as Ali missed – it’s easy standing on the line.
Ten minutes into the half and Canvey had weathered the storm and they pinned us back in our own half with some lovely kicking and more effective tackling. Three times Warren had to react to breakaways down their left wing, following handling errors from Cantabs which were almost punished on the counter attack. Cantabs were next to score though from a penalty, when Ali made another straight attempt from only 8m out, and the ball was lost to the railway much to Martin’s annoyance; 15 - 3.
Irish James made a great touch from a penalty on halfway deep into the Canvey 22 on the right. Charlie tried the short throw to Isaia at the front of the line, the Italian prop made ground passed back to Charlie who set up the ruck, for Rich Ford to dive over in the corner. A great set piece move that worked this time. Ali’s kick faded away wide of the posts, but the game was secured at 20 - 3 and well into the last ten. Dan Searle came back into the game with Rich taking a well earned breather.
Cantabs were now pressing for the fourth try and Irish put us in with a chance with another penalty kick into the right hand corner. This time the throw was not straight, Canvey got the put in and we promptly pushed them back and won the put in for another go. The scrum worked a treat, as it had for most of the afternoon. We were over the line and scrum half Richard Kemp marked a fine game by diving on the ball for the try and a bonus point. Great kick from Ali made it 27 - 3 with five minutes to go. Last action of the day was a superb kick over the defence by Paul Graddage on the left wing, and his sprint to follow up was just headed by the Canvey full-back, who touched down behind his line. End of game.
In summary, a great performance from the lads in very difficult conditions. Canvey could not handle our forwards in set play, particularly the scrum, and the crash balls to Perksy, Charlie, Denman and Isaia knocked holes in their line time and time again. Good discipline from Warren, Tom Conder, Fraser and Jonnie, in trying conditions and the usual fierce tackling in the loose by Dan, Our centres were strong when it mattered and Ali was more like Ali on his runs through the middle this week, only being denied by the mud. Richard Kemp is showing that he is an able deputy for Dean and the half-back pairing with Irish worked well. My man of the match was Rich Ford for his work in the loose and his lineout play, but on his debut, Tom Skelton ran him close.
This win takes up to 4th place in the division, just five points from top and all the top three teams still to come to Sedley Taylor Road; some great games to come in the second half of the season.
We have the long trip to Folkestone in the third round of the Cup next week, and it is likely to be a much changed team, with some of the squad rotating.
To make it a great day for the Club, our 2nd XV defeated Cambridge 3rds on the school pitch – a rare victory against our local rivals.