Cantabs made the trip down the M11 to play Harlow in this league fixture, hoping to repeat the victory from earlier in the season. Harlow had enjoyed a revival of fortune since our last encounter, and narrowly lost away to Norwich last week; so a tough game was expected. Injuries sustained in the Beccles match had caused Captain, Rich Ford (ribs), Warren Cowan (knee ligaments), and Tom Skelton (groin) to miss the game. Samisoni Kididromo was also unavailable. Luke Mumby, Ben Farmer, Harri Beasley, Ian Watkins and Cyril Journoux were drafted into the squad.
Harlow, who kicked off, appeared to be quite a different side from that we had seen at Sedley Taylor Road and they were quicker into their game in front of a sizeable crowd. The pitch had passed an earlier inspection and was perfectly playable although muddy in places, Harlow soon had Cantabs under pressure with some strong running from their centres. A good kick from their flyhalf took play right into the Cantabs 5m line on our left. Harlow won the lineout and moved the ball at pace across the pitch. Cantabs had no answer and the Essex men scored in the opposite corner. The conversion was unsuccessful, but with only five minutes on the clock it was 5 - 0 to the home side. Jon Perks was already limping, but he stayed on.
The Cantabs faithful were fearing the worst and straight from the kick-off, Harlow ran the ball back to our 22 at ease. Cantabs had not started well and the Harlow backs were looking likely to score again. It took a Dean James kick to touch after 12 minutes to finally get us into the Harlow half. The home side had dominated the early plays and our kicking to that point had been frantic and ineffective.
Then Cantabs finally put a move together and it was winger Francois Eve that went close to scoring on the end of it. He was held up inches short of the line and Cantabs seem to gain confidence at that point. Our scrum was now dominating despite the obvious weight advantage of the Harlow pack. At the second attempt to set the scrum inside the Harlow 22, on the right, Dean abandoned the shove, probably to the surprise of Harlow, fed Skeggsy at No 8, who put Ali clear on the blindside for a well-worked try in the corner. Ali's conversion faded past the post. But with quarter of an hour gone we were level at 5 - 5.
However, Harlow were soon back at us and straight from the restart they gained possession inside our 22, the home side pack set up a rolling maul and it was their scrum half who finished the move diving over close to the posts. The kick was a formality and after 20 minutes Harlow were back in control at 12 - 5.
Some good tackling and rucking got Cantabs back in the game and Ben Farmer then made a decisive back on the left, coming out of his own 22, and scorching through to halfway. His pass wide out to Paul Graddage was timed beautifully, and Paul raced away, seeming certain to score, only to be called back by the referee following a raised flag from the Harlow linesman for a forward pass! Cantabs scum was now dominant, with our pack winning virtually every scrum. Cantabs were then awarded a penalty centrally on the Harlow 10m line. With a gusting wind behind him, Ali's kick rapped the post and went dead. All the pressure was now coming from Cantabs and we moved the ball to within 10m of their line, and won another penalty. This time we elected to scrum, but Harlow managed to stop our drive for the line. It was still all Cantabs pressure and when we had gained a great position deep in the Harlow 22, the referee called the half to a halt bang on 40 minutes. A strange referring decision, to say the least, when the physios had been on the pitch half a dozen times.
Harri Beasley came on for Paul Graddage at half time and Ian Watkins replaced Luke Mumby at second row. Francois then had a couple of very good runs, the first resulting from a catch deep in his own half following a big kick by Harlow. Deans grubber kick along the left touchline had Harlow scrambling the ball into touch on their own 10m line, but Cantabs could not make the lineout count and Harlow came away to win a penalty on the edge of our 22. The kick was successful and against the run of play Harlow extended their lead; 15 - 5.
Harlow then had another long range attempt which failed and regained possession after the 22 drop out and threatened to score wide on the left with some good support play. They were finally stopped right on our try line and Josh took a quick tap, moved the ball to the left to Ali who moved out under his own posts and just got the ball away to Harri who took the play upfield into the Harlow half. Cantabs continued to press and our forwards trundled the ball forward with phase after phase into the Harlow 22. Dean finally released the ball to Josh, who passed out wide to Drew. Francois went close, but we recycled the ball quickly and Steve Skeggs made the line. to make it 15 - 10. Ali could not make the kick from out wide on the right but Cantabs were on the ascendancy
Another period of Cantabs pressure followed, and when play reached the Harlow 22 on the left, Dean moved the ball infield to Josh, he brought Drew into the line and his flicked pass moved the ball wide to Ben clear on the right. For the second time in the match, the Harlow linesman flagged for a forward pass, when either Ben or Francois was certain to score. An indignant Skeggsy, said too much to the referee and Harlow were glad to receive the penalty. Their centre actually said the pass was never forward, but the moment and our chance had gone.
Jon Perks finally gave his knee a break and Cyril came on at hooker for the last quarter of an hour. Dean also left the field with a dead leg and with his departure, our attack lost most of its sting.
Harlow somehow contrived to keep the ball in our half for the next ten minutes and ran down the clock for a somewhat fortunate 15 - 10 win. Despite the defeat, there were plenty of positive things to take away from this game. Cantabs now obviously have strength in depth, with so many front line players unavailable, the 2nd XV had to call on 3rd team players for their match against Saffron Walden 2nds, but we still got the win. For the 1st XV, Dan Searle was back to his best, tackling like a demon throughout the match. Our front row is clearly unsurpassed in the division and Harlow only got to grips with our scrum in the last 10 minutes.
Next week it is league leaders, South Woodham Ferrers the divisional leaders, who will attempt to break the Cantabs unbeaten run of home game which now stretches back to October 2010. Join me for a pre-match curry, Mrs Faben's apple crumble and some great rugby.