Cantabs opened their league programme at Sedley Taylor Road against newly promoted Campion, who had won the Essex League last season with an unbeaten record. There was a good crowd to watch; many of them having enjoyed the delights of Jeff & Angela’s BBQ and having topped up on ale. A few new faces in the team which lined up as follows:
It had rained for twelve hours over the previous twenty four but the pitch was in great condition and well grassed. Campion in red kicked off from the railway end, and it was Cantabs who made the early running and looking far more business like than the previous week at Biggleswade. Campion however were working very hard at the breakdown and making life far from easy for the Cantabs forwards. The first scrum went to Campion and it was business as usual for our front row with the Essex men shoved unceremoniously back at a rate of knots. Somehow their No 8 saved the day and Campion scrambled the ball to safety. On the third scrum in the Campion half, the away side were finally penalised for breaking the bind in a desperate attempt to keep possession from our pack. The kick was central, about 30 metres out and Irish made no mistake. 3 – 0 to Cantabs after just five minutes.
Campion then started to put Cantabs under pressure and looked dangerous without threatening our line. Good defence forced the error and after five successive scrums to the opposition we finally won the put in. Sure enough our pack held firm and Rich Ford held the ball in as the pack gained ground. But Cantabs were penalised at the breakdown for holding on as the Campion forwards were gain on our tackled man in a flash. The penalty took them deep into our half and the line out continued to work well for the visitors, pinning Cantabs in their own 22. Cantabs finally regained possession with a great run from our fullback breaking out of our 22, passing outside to Irish whose pass was just not held by Paul Graddage on the right wing.
Irish James was the next to make a clean break setting up a Jon Perks run from the breakdown but Cantabs were penalised on halfway. A lovely kick from the Campion No 21, flyhalf, brought them within 5 metres of our line and for once their lineout failed with Dean James thumping the ball clear upfield. Sammi then broke clear with a typical driving run from our Fijian, well supported by Francois who was bundled into touch on halfway as Sammi took the tackle. Sammi did not get up and with play continuing, Nikki worked on his left knee (up until then his good one), but to no avail, and Josh joined the fray. Campion were now on top and Cantabs were struggling to keep them out of our half. Campion were awarded a penalty just inside our 22. Now the game can swing on one small mistake, and with one of our team arguing about the referee’s decision, this was just such an occasion. We were made to retreat a further ten metres and so Campion took a tap penalty right under our posts. The defence had seemed to hold firm but their flanker grabbed the ball two metres from our line from the third ruck and squirmed over the line. Easy conversion for their half back and with 25 minutes gone we were 3 – 7 down.
Campion were next guilty of chatting to Sir and Dean took advantage with a tap and run to make very good ground. Play moved up to the Campion 22 and we were awarded a second shot at goal from 25 metres, again central. No mistake from Irish and with ten minutes left in the half we were right back in it at 6 – 7.
Francois went on another lovely run from halfway beating three men, and Cantabs were looking like they wanted the game again. Francois again put away on the left wing only to be tackled into touch by their last man the left winger from Campion who had tracked right across the pitch. No further serious action in the first half, but Cantabs now on the ascendancy as the half finished.
Isaia and Pete took a break at half time, with Shane and Luke getting a run. Early on it was Campion pressing hard. Dan Searle made a saving tap tackle got up and hit the next man with a full bodied tackle. But Campion continued to press and won a series of penalties 5 metres out, electing to take the tap each time. Wave after wave of pressure from the Campion big men but Cantabs were tackling everything they threw at us and finally Rich Ford, hobbling only minutes earlier, suddenly took the ball at a ruck under our posts and we cleared the danger with a great clearing kick from Irish. Dean James took a bad knock in the midst of all the mayhem and had to leave the field for the remainder of the game. Toby went to scrum half, Dan moved to the wing and Josh took over at full-back. But despite all these changes and 30 minutes left on the clock, Cantabs were never seriously threatened again. Wave after wave of Cantabs pressure was kicked clear by their flyhalf whop always managed to find touch.
Initially our scrum half was penalised for putting the ball in crookedly then our lineout seemed to fail, so a lot of good territorial advantage was lost time and time again. But with quarter of an hour to go we moved into the Campion 22, and started to make ground towards the line. Charlie was bundled into touch and we knocked on at the line out. We again annihilated their scrum and were awarded the put in. Their No 8 broke away too soon and was yellow carded. Five metre scrum to Cantabs, just the chance we needed, only seven men for Campion, it surely had to be a pushover try. Crooked put in and our big chance was gone (another very small mistake).
Cantabs continued to press, Dan Searle went close, but the score would not come. Irish kicked beautifully, time and time again with great probing kicks into the Campion 22, but invariably their lineout served them well and their flyhalf kicked them out of danger. Isaia came back on for Perksy for the last ten minutes and Cantabs worked the ball back into the Campion 22 only to knock on or infringe time and time again. Then with two minutes left on the clock we were suddenly awarded another chance on the edge of the 22 slightly to the left of the posts. Big pressure, the kick failed, it wasn’t our day. Shortly after to the delight of the Campion team, the game was over. Final score 6 - 7.Our long unbeaten record was gone and the season starts with a defeat. That was in fact our second only defeat at home in the last four years, and each by a single point. But I am afraid one point is enough.
Congratulations to Campion for tackling and competing well throughout. Cantabs had their chances but failed to take them. Another tough game next week away to Wisbech; not for the faint hearted!
A great win for our 2nds away to Ely Development, scoring 60 points against a side that put 50 past us in the friendly version the week before – it must have been a very different Ely Development team this time!