Cantabs faced Canvey Island for the third time of asking, having beaten them narrowly in the Senior Vase and then again two weeks later in the league; both times at Sedley Taylor Road. From last week’s squad, Paul Graddage and Warren Cowan were unavailable, and Samisoni Kididromo was injured. Isaia was back at prop, so Jonny Heaver moved to 2nd Row. Captain for the day was Dan Searle as Rich Ford was carrying a shoulder injury and moved to the bench
Cantabs kicked off in with the wind on a wide grassy pitch, but winter was definitely back. We were soon on the offensive and for the first periods of play Canvey struggled to get out of their own half. Dan Searle was tackling like a demon and our big guys were making the hard yards. The first couple of scrums indicated that our front row was on top and the Canvey pack was being shoved back. Within the first ten minutes, the first tackle involving Dean James saw him leave the field for A&E, with what proved to be a dislocated and broken finger. Josh Schmidt was moved to scrum half, James McCaughran to flyhalf and Drew Tilley came into Centre.
15 minutes into the game our scrum proved too much for the Islanders, who were penalised just outside their own 22. Ali slotted the kick to make it 0 - 3.
Cantabs were soon back in the Canvey half with a good kick from Irish James and excellent lineout play won the ball back. That play came to nothing despite a 5m lineout to Cantabs, as Canvey cleared their lines with a good clearing kick. With the wind at our backs the obvious play was to kick into the opponents half and so when Ben Farmer did just that with a great grubber kick of 35 metres up to the Canvey 22 again, all was looking well. We won the lineout and Canvey offended again by going offside. Ali had the easiest of chances from 15m to make the score 0 - 6 after 25 minutes.
However the warning signs were there, despite our dominance in the scrum, our backs were not flowing. Time and again the ball was taken back into contact instead of moving it out wide where Francois and Harri had the space to open up and stretch the Islanders backs. A break away by Canvey nearly resulted in a try but for some desperate cover tackling and a bit of luck. But in our attempts to halt the home side’s progress we suffered a couple more injuries. Jonny Heaver and Fraser Kelsall left the field to be replaced by a half fit Rich Ford and Chris Walliker. Less than half an hour into the game and we had used all our subs.
From the restart, Canvey Island seemed rejuvenated and continued to press. Our defence yielded and suddenly the home side were in at the corner. The kick against the wind was impossibly difficult, but the Islanders were back in the game at 5 - 6 with 35 minutes gone.
The second half started with Canvey being encouraged by their supporters to take the game to Cantabs, they easily repelled Cantabs first attack and their fly half kicked mightily into our 22 where we could only help the ball into touch. Canvey won their lineout, mauled the ball forward and when their hooker broke free he ran in for a try virtually unopposed to the right of the posts. Straightforward conversion and Cantabs were now behind at 12 - 6.
Cantabs restarted and immediately posted their intent to get back on terms, and it took a high tackle on Harri to stop the left winger’s progress. Although the tackle was not actually penalised, the referee took play back to the 22, centrally for offside. Ali made the penalty kick and Cantabs closed to 12 - 9.
Canvey pressed and it took a good saving tackle from Harri to save the day. Cantabs slowly worked the ball forward through Perksy, Isaia and Chris banging out the phases and moved us into the opposition 22. But the ball was finally spilled, Canvey hacked ahead and the Islanders Centre was first to the ball, gathered a friendly bounce on the Cantabs 22 and raced through for a try against the run of play. Great kick from their flyhalf gave then the extras to make the score 19 - 9 halfway through the second period.
Next chance came to Cantabs as a result of more forwards pressure but his kick from 30m was wide and the score remained the same as the clock ticked down. Another drive from Perksy put Ali away on the right and he got his pass away to Francois who was upended a metre from the line. The pack secured the ball and Josh shipped the ball left along the backs and it was Harri who finally got over at the second attempt when he was not held. The kick was too much for Ali this time, but we were closing in on the home side again at
19 - 14.
Cantabs continued to press after the restart but the Islanders pack stood firm and even with their scrum going backwards, time and again their No 8 managed to collect the ball from the retreating pack. Cantabs were guilty of losing control of the ball time and time again in good positions. The Canvey flyhalf used the wind better than us and regularly kicked his team back into our 22.
In the last few minutes we found ourselves at the wrong end of the pitch and some desperate defending was required to keep the Islanders out. With our team pinned under their own posts, Canvey won the ruck, passed back to the flyhalf and from fifteen metres out he drop kicked over the bar. That was the last play; final score 22 - 14. Canvey Island deserved the win, which they so desperately needed to avoid relegation. The Islanders back row put us under pressure in the backs and what Cantabs would have given for a couple of tries from the previous week. For Cantabs, it really was a case of, after the Lord Mayor's show, coming off an 80 point win at home in the previous week to a team that was four places higher in the league.
Next week is the London Final of the Senior Vase against unbeaten Maidstone. On this performance we will be on the wrong end of a hiding. Perhaps too many had one eye on the following week, who knows?