It was Family Day at Cantabs on a glorious autumn afternoon and newly promoted Wymondham were the visitors as Cantabs sought their first win of the season. Cantabs were sporting a very smart new kit and with our 2nd XV hosting Shelford 4s on the college pitch it really was a true test for the new pavilion showers. An unusual look to the team with Charlie Searle, Pete Collins, Sammi Kididromo, Shane Brennan and James Walton all still injured and Dean James and Bevan Whyte unavailable. But our captain Rich Ford and club stalwart Chris Walliker were back in the pack to bolster the forwards. The half-back paring of Sykes and Wilder allowed James (Irish) McCaughran to move to inside centre.
Wymondham, in red, kicked off towards the clubhouse and it was clear from the outset that our pack was the stronger of the two in the scrum but their jumpers were setting the pace in the lineouts. The away side had a lively set of backs and they had the better of the early exchanges. After just a few minutes play Cantabs were penalised for going off their feet at the ruck and the Wymondham outside centre took a pot at goal from 35m. The kick faded away to the left of the posts.
Our first two scrums were to no avail as we were penalised, but the signs were there that the Norfolk front row were going to have a difficult time when we got it right. A charged down kick from our fullback put the backs under a huge amount of pressure as Wymondham did their utmost to capitalise. Rich Ford was adjudged to have deliberately knocked on and the resultant kick took the men in red to a 5m lineout. The Wymondham pack tried to maul the ball and initially had some success, but our defensive line stood firm and we came up with the ball. The scrum on the edge of our 22 was secured by Cantabs and a second scum following shortly after saw Euan find touch 30m out from the Wymondham line. For once the Wymondham throw was not straight and Jack Sykes, playing a rare game at scrum half secured the ball at the base of the scrum moved it out to Irish James who made 15m before releasing Euan Wilder, who raced in over the line to score in the right hand corner unopposed. Cantabs first try in the league this season. Jack Sykes made the conversion from the touchline and Cantabs were up and running at 7 - 0 with 15 minutes gone.
Cantabs now had their most dominant period with the scrum rampant on either put-in. Following a scrum halfway into the Wymondham territory, a crash ball to Perksy, setting up the ruck, then the Cantabs backs moved the ball to the left, then back across the pitch to the right wing where Finlay Wilson finished off the move, diving over in the right hand corner. 20 minutes on the clock and Cantabs were really cooking at 12 - 0. This time, Jack’s kick faded past the far post.
At this point in the game our famous linesman, Al Sadler, was pleased with progress, and Cantabs were looking good for a third try when awarded a penalty in the right hand corner less than 10m from the line and rightly elected for a scrum, only to knock on. Rich Ford took a knock to the head, and left the pitch with ice bag, bringing Luke Mumby into the game. Luke moved to blindside and Ian Watkins to No 8. Still Cantabs pressed, winning a penalty 30m out from goal. This time the kick went wide. The Wymondham 22 drop out was caught by Irish who ran it back at speed to within 25m, and set up the ruck. Wymondham were penalise for coming in at the side, and Jack slotted his kick to make the score 15 - 0. The Wymondham hooker was yellow carded for repeated infringements at the breakdown.
The restart was caught by Perksy this time and he charged forward back into the red half, to set up yet another Cantabs attack. Wymondham won the ball back and raced forward through their right winger who was just tackled by Josh, pushing him towards the touchline where the next two men in blue finished the job. Cantabs completed the half on top, deservedly ahead.
The second half started with Rich Ford back on for Luke, and Perksy took a break to give Shane Rea a turn at prop. However, following an attempted chip kick by our full back, which was gobbled up by the Norfolk men and another clearing kick from Euan dropping short of the touchline Wymondham moved into the counter attack. This their first clear cut backs move of the match terminated with their outside centre sprint over in the right hand corner for a well taken try, which he converted himself with a great kick. Only three minutes into the half and Wymondham were back in the game at 15 - 7.
It was all Wymondham at the start of the second half and try as they might Cantabs could not break out. In such an attempt, Dan Searle tried to burst through a gap between two Wymondham men and was left writhing on the ground. The angle of his elbow suggested a dislocation, confirmed later by some rather gruesome x-ray photos. Isaia also left the pitch, leading to the double substitution with Luke and Jon Perks rejoining the game.
Wymondham then went close again with their flyhalf bursting through our line to go under the posts. But the try was disallowed for a forward pass, and Cantabs breathed again. Cantabs were trying to get back in the game but poor passing was letting them down. In an effort to tighten up, Simon Hallissey had a great run through the middle passing four defenders only to lose the ball in the tackle. Our linesman was now fretting somewhat as Cantabs struggled to get back in the game.
Isaia replaced Jonnie Heaver and Joe Allison was brought into the back line for Simon and immediately caught the eye; running some nice lines. Isaia immediately had an impact, picking up the ball from a loose ruck and rampaging forward 20 metres. Wymondham wouldn’t give up and started to move the ball through their backs. Suddenly, Francois intercepted a wayward pass on halfway, and raced towards the try line just making the score next to the posts, as the defender got to him. Jack somehow missed the kick – would we come to regret that? Against the run of play in the second half, the lead had stretched to 20 - 7 half way through the half.
Wymondham came straight back at us forcing Francois into touch on our 5m line. Somehow we got that one clear following a crooked throw and a scrum that held firm. Cantabs lost the ball just outside their 22 and Wymondham swept forward down the right and again scored in the corner, despite an obvious forward pass (well obvious to me!). Their outside centre slotted another lovely kick from the touchline, and the score moved to 20 - 14, with more than fifteen minutes left on the clock.
Ian Watkins was enjoying his role at open-side and had three or four decent runs, but was either stripped of the ball or became isolated, but Cantabs were now looking to take the ball back to their opponents. Rich Ford was next to lose the ball in the opponents 22 and the Norfolk men swept back into our half. A struggling Cantabs defence conceded the penalty on thirty metres and yet again their man did his job to bring the score to 20 - 17 with ten minutes to go.
Another Wymondham attack foundered ten metres out from our line with a forward pass, but their attacks and our defence continued to get more and more desperate as the players from both side tired. Danny James received treatment but made it to the next scrum for our put in and the pack did its job, taking up valuable seconds. We won a penalty and Jack kicked into the corner. But Wymondham were not to be denied and came back at us in the final minutes to win a lineout only ten metres out. They won the lineout and again went close to scoring at the death, but for another forward pass. No time for the scrum, and the game was over. Cantabs will take the win, but having won the first half, we were on the rack for most of the second; holding on against a Wymondham side that would have probably won had the game gone on any longer. A hard, but well fought match, and yet another injury to add to the long list for Coach Mick Jones. Our backs need to perform as they did in the first half. I thought Jack Sykes had a very solid game at scrum half and Euan, Finn, Simon and Joe all stepped up toi the mark to show what they can give to the 1st XV. A special mention to to Danny James who has retired twice in the last three years, but still managed to last the full 80 minutes.
Next week we make that long trip to Canvey Island, who are still looking for their first points of the campaign.