Cantabs travelled to furthest north Cambs for the game against rivals Wisbech on Saturday in the second league fixture of the season. It was a much changed squad that saw eight of last week's 2nd XV promoted to the 1st XV along with ex club captain, James (Casper) Thomas; following a disastrous run of injuries and absentees from the team picked only a week earlier. It was a good thing that March had called off our 2nd team fixture; otherwise the Club would really have struggled. As it was it gave coach Mick Jones a chance to give some aspiring players the opportunity to show what they could do at a higher level. Shane Rea, Shane Brennan and Jack (son of Mark) Sykes were all making their first ever start for the 1st XV.
Cantabs kicked off on a well grassed and dry pitch with the widest white lines I have seen, and initially fared well in the early exchanges. Wisbech too looked much changed from last season but seemed to have a distinct height advantage at 2nd row. With only two minutes on the clock in their first incursion into our half, Wisbech gained a penalty which their flyhalf kicked optimistically from 45m out, but the scoreboard was not altered.
Cantabs continued to harry and moved into the Wisbech half but a wild pass along the back line was gobbled up by the Wisbech forwards and we had to chase back to our 22 to retrieve possession. Predictably, we were penalised for holding on in the tackle and the reds' No 10 had a simple chance this time to open the home teams account. Eight minutes gone and it was 3 - 0 to the Fen Men.
Cantabs then knocked on and Wisbech had the first chance to test their scrum. The home side's No 8 retrieved the situation well when under big pressure and the Wisbech backs took the ball out wide on the right wing, touching down easily in the corner. The conversion drifted wide, but after eleven minutes Cantabs were further behind at 8 - 0.
Cantabs worked their way back into the Wisbech half from the restart with our forwards retaining possession through four phases, before Wisbech were penalised at the breakdown. Jack's penalty attempt from 30m missed on the right,
Wisbech were next to break clear with a hack through and chase, after a big tackle on Finlay Wilson, which their right winger collected and looked likely to score were it not from a desperate tackle by Drew Tilley. The tackle was deemed high and Drew was yellow carded, with the Wisbech crowd calling for a penalty try! Finn underwent treatment on the pitch but could not recover sufficiently from a big hit to the head; so Casper joined the fray after 50 minutes. The penalty from out wide on the right, missed. Wisbech continued to press hard and our seven man scrum held well, until we finally got the put in on our five metre line. Cantabs cleared the danger and Wisbech were penalised, Cantabs took a quick tap and Wisbech were penalised for not retreating (not for the first time).
Prop Shane Brennan was the next to take a big hit to the shoulder and left the pitch, for the rest of the game; Danny James taking over up front. Despite being a man short Cantabs continued to press with Dan Searle tackling like a demon and Jonnie Heaver doing a lot of good work close in, Perksy and Shane Rea driving forward like bulldozers. We worked our way into their 22 and won a scrum 15m out. Wisbech were penalised and it was their flyhalf that got a yellow card this time, leaving Jack a simple chance from in front of the posts to make the score 8 – 3 after 35 minutes. The remainder of the half saw Cantabs forwards working the ball into the Wisbech red area but a loose pass again gave Wisbech the chance of another breakaway and Lovett’s boot just saved the day as he shepherded the ball into touch on our 5m line. End of the half.
Mike Denman, our impact player of the second half as Mick put it, replaced Shane Rea at half time. We moved into their 22 shortly after the restart and Denman impacted with one of their more solid individuals, sustained a shoulder injury and took no further part in the game. Less than two minutes on the pitch including initial treatment. Three guys were now on the sidelines sharing Nikki and her ice bag. Their inside centre looked to have broken clear but for a great tackle from Jonnie. The pressure continued however and the ball bobbled over our line, was dropped by someone in a frantic attempt to ground it, and Wisbech it was who finally fell on the ball first to claim a second try deep in the left hand corner. The conversion was not made but with five minutes gone of the second half, the score had moved to 13 - 3.
Wisbech were now restored to full numbers but the referee had obviously decided to keep the sides with odd numbers as following a ruck, Jon Perks was trooping off the field with his tail between his legs for an enforced ten minute break. Somehow Cantabs had contrived to have three props in disposed at that point and we went to unopposed scrums for Perksy’s rest period. Finn rejoined the game sufficiently recovered from his sore head as Joe Allison took a bad knock to his kidney region. Joe had had a good game at No 8 until then, picking up neatly at the back of the scrum and doing the simple things well.
Charlie Searle was next to halt a threatening Wisbech drive, taking the ball at the ruck under his posts, but Wisbech continued to press hard and just before we were restored to full numbers, we conceded a penalty in our own 22, making it an easy three points to bring the score to 16 - 3 with twenty minutes left on the clock. Perks was restored to the field of play and the scrum.
Cantabs continued to take quick penalties through Jack and time and again Wisbech were penalised for not retreating 10m. After just such an occasion, Dan Searle appeared to take exception to their No 5 (almost twice his height). They both had a chat with the referee and the yellow card, elastic like, popped out of sir's top pocket. No 5 took no further part in the game. Jack missed the penalty attempt and capitalising on a turnover on half way, Wisbech worked the ball forward at pace. Their backs turned our defence this way and that and suddenly the game was beyond our reach and even a losing bonus point as they touched down in the left hand corner again. The try was not converted and although it was Cantabs that exerted the final pressure going close with the forwards driving in three times within a couple of metres of scoring; there was no further score. Whistle went; 21 - 3 to Wisbech and Cantabs still looking for that elusive first win of the season.
Frankly, Wisbech will probably struggle to win too many games away from home, but at home they are always up for it and will be hard to beat. Cantabs have to start to get a settled side and fast or the season will become increasingly difficult. We have a home game next week against newly promoted Wymondham, who won their first game this weekend. It's family day at Sedley Taylor Road; get down and support the lads!