Second place Wanstead were the visitors at Sedley Taylor Road for this London 3NE encounter, and Cantabs expected a tough match having lost to the Stead in the away fixture. Ben Farmer was selected at full-back with Ali McCormick working in the US. At centre James Walton was back from his trip down under. Paul Graddage was injured during the week and his slot was taken by youngster, Harri Beasley.
The pitch was in good condition considering the recent rain and ice, and in bright windless conditions it was Cantabs kicking off towards the railway in their yellow change strip. Early pressure came from Cantabs and Wanstead were penalised for offside in the first few minutes. Irish James elected to go for goal from 38m, but his kick never really left the ground.
Perksy was the next to threaten the Wanstead line with a great driving run on the crash ball taking him 20m only to be tackled close to the line. The ball was recycled but we knocked on. The resultant scrum had Stead in all sorts of trouble, but despite immense pressure the danger was cleared with a frantic kick to touch. Cantabs were making all the running with play constantly inside the Wanstead half and generally inside their 22. Cantabs play however was full of errors and the referee was very active with his whistle.
When Wanstead did get clear our tackling was ferocious and some great kicking from Irish pushed them back into their 22. We were guilty of throwing the ball away with hurried passing, but after ten minutes the play had never really got into the Cantabs half.
Sammi was causing havoc with his marauding sorties through the middle and Perksy was back to his best on the crash ball, but Wanstead were defending well and Cantabs could not make their territorial advantage pay. The referee seemed to be pulling up play very regularly and the game rather degenerated into a complete mess, with neither side putting meaningful moves together. Ben at full-back was very secure fielding all attempts by the away side to kick their way into our half.
Wanstead finally got into our 22 after 20 minutes with a well taken penalty, but Cantabs saw off the threat and it was Harri making ground down the left wing that put us back in the opponents 22. He managed to win the penalty, when the tackler did not move away. Our scrum was now so much on top that a pushover try looked a real possibility, when we got within 5 metres of the line. The scrum went down, and the referee penalised Cantabs! The penalty kick went nowhere; we won the lineout and shipped the ball out to the left. Wanstead were penalised yet again at the breakdown. Harri took a quick tap and went over in the corner. From way out on the left touchline, Irish James’ kick crept over the bar, so it was finally 7 - 0 to Cantabs, and the halftime whistle blew straight away. An awful half of rugby; interrupted by incessant whistling and really only one side in it.
Rich Ford (back), Sammi (knee ligament) and Jonnie Heaver gave way to Fraser Kelsall, Warren Cowan and Josh Schmidt. Josh moved to flyhalf with Irish taking over at Centre.
Wanstead started the brighter, but it was very much short lived. Cantabs were soon on the attack again and Warren was quick to make his presence felt with a typical drive along the left hand touchline and was very evident again at the next breakdown. Perksy, on the crash, was suddenly through a couple of tackles and made the line. Problem was he also collected the referee on the way through and the try was not awarded. We gained a five metre scrum, Skeggsy at No 8, held the ball in the back of the scrum as we progressed sweetly towards the line. The Wanstead back row broke too early in a desperate attempt to stop the touchdown and the referee awarded a penalty try. Simple conversion, and with 50 minutes on the clock it was Cantabs clear at 14 - 0.
Wanstead scrum had obviously had their fill of our front row as their prop followed their hooker off, and it was then uncontested scrums. Wanstead elected not to bring on a further replacement, and played out the half with a man short. Tactically it proved a wise decision, because the scrum was decidedly our biggest strength and had the game continued with contested scrums, Wanstead would have taken a real beating.
Irish James then had another pot at goal from 35m, but again his kick lacked distance. Cantabs then crossed the line again following some re, but were penalised again for not staying on their feet at the ruck. Rich Ford rejoined the game and Francois took a break, with Dan Searle moving out to the right wing.
Despite the uncontested scrums it was Cantabs making all the running, and Wanstead defending grimly. Then from a scrum wide on the right, on the Wanstead 22, Dean shipped the ball left out to Josh, and the backs moved the ball smartly out to Harri on the left, he sped down the wing and touched down virtually unopposed. This time Irish could not repeat the magic, bit after 65minutes it was 19 - 0 and Cantabs were aiming for a bonus point.
Wanstead had other thought and some poor tackling let them through, for the first time in the game. Their kicker let us off the extras, despite a relatively simple conversion chance, which he tried to hurry with a drop kick from right in front, but the Stead were suddenly more vociferous at 19 - 5.
Cantabs were then pressing for their fourth try, inside the opponents 22, but somehow we lost the ball in the ruck and the Wanstead centre ran from his own half, outsprinting all our defence to score a great solo try out on the right. Again the kick failed, but that was that. Cantabs went close, but could not make that bonus point, and the game finished at 19 - 10.
Not a match to remember for the Cantabs faithful, apart from a great run, late on, by Skeggsy and but for a forward pass to Harri, we might have got that fourth try. Frankly, we should have won this one by a street. We had a 90%/10% territorial advantage and just could not make it pay. However, this was only Wanstead’s fourth defeat in the league and as a consequence they moved down to fourth place and Cantabs find themselves in fifth. We preserved our unbeaten home run and will be looking for an elusive away win next week at bottom club East London, before the rearranged cup semi-final at Beccles.