Canvey Island was the fixture last season where our hopes of promotion were finally sunk. In my three visits over 20 seasons, I had never witnessed a Cantabs win, so it was with some trepidation that we made the trip through the marshlands to visit the good folk on the Island. As usual we received a warm welcome in the clubhouse and were told that this was the best side the Essex men had managed to put out in the current season. Cantabs were still without a number of 1st team picks but as that was generally the case this season, the youngsters from our 2nd XV were fast becoming the new look 1st XV.
First team debut for centre Owen Lewis; and three subs also making the 1st team squad for the first time this season, Harri Beazley, included, having returned from six months in Belize, only 24 hours earlier. In all 11 of the 18 players on duty had started the season in the 2nd XV.
Cantabs kicked off on a well grassed pitch in windless and bright conditions; yet another great day for a game of rugby. Early territory advantage was certainly with Cantabs, and the pressure told straight away with the award of a penalty, just outside the Canvey 22. Jack Sykes made no mistake, and less than two minutes on the clock, Cantabs were 0 - 3 ahead.
Drew then set up another attack taking the ball to Canvey and beating three men wide on the right before going to ground. A crooked throw gave the Cantabs scrum a chance to show their mettle, and the pack did not disappoint pushing the Essex men back on their own ball. Cantabs were soon back in the danger area, gained another penalty, 30m out this time, and Jack doubled the lead to 0 - 6 after six minutes.
Cantabs found themselves under pressure straight from the restart, with Josh failing to clear and running into trouble on the edge of his own 22. Cantabs didn't recover and were caught offside. Simple chance for the Canvey flyhalf from 20m, and the lead was halved to 3 - 6. To add to our troubles, Isaia limped off with an ankle injury, and we waited for the ice bag to do its job. Jonnie moved to prop, with Ben Tozer taking his place at 2nd row.
A kick through by Canvey, seemed to be going into our full back's arms, he hesitated, the ball bounced as only rugby balls can, bypassed Josh, as did the chasing Canvey back for a simple touchdown. All of this occurred against the run of play. The try was wide on the right and the kick was long but wider, but somehow the men from Essex were ahead, the Islanders were rejoicing and the Cantabs travelling faithful suddenly realised it was perhaps going to be one of those days. 8 - 6 to Canvey and it was game on. The injured Searle brothers, supporting from the line, then started to get more vociferous.
Things went from bad to worse when Canvey followed up shortly afterwards with a very well taken penalty from 35m, way out on the right hand touchline. Now the score was 11 - 6 and this signalled even more encouragement from the brothers, most of it positive. By now the magic ice had done its work on our Italian prop's ankle so he resumed his place in the scrum, much to the annoyance of his opposite number.
From the restart we looked to press again and following a well struck penalty from Jack which found touch halfway into the Canvey 22. The lineout was now working well. Rich Ford caught the ball the maul formed Canvey knocked on and inevitably our scrum moved forward to the line, with Rich Ford dribbling the ball at the back. line. Two metres out we lost control; and Canvey cleared the danger. But Cantabs came back again with good possession following yet another strong scrum. Canvey, however, came closest to scoring again when another good clearing kick had to be shepherded into touch only ten metres out. The catch and drive by their forwards was halted, we won the scrum and Euan cleared well to take play out of our 22.
A very scrappy period of play ensued with Cantabs spilling the ball regularly, conceding the scrum and duly winning the ball back against the head time and time again. Francois had one great run out of defence, staying on his feet with two men tackling him, but that was the last action of the half.
The second half began with Josh replaced by Francois at full back, and Harri taking his place on the wing. It was Euan's clearing kick which moved us back into the Canvey half, and his follow-up chase disturbed the Canvey fullback into panicking his kick into touch just outside the Canvey 22. Cantabs won the lineout and their rolling maul did its job. The ball was then set up for the backs, Canvey moved offside, and Jack had another pot at goal from 25m, which faded left.
Scrum after scrum took play into the Canvey half. A penalty for infringing in the set piece finally gave Jack the chance to go for the corner; he made touch 15m out. Rich Ford soared high to take the catch; the rolling maul took the ball to the line, and over. Try deservedly earned by Luke Mumby, to level the score at 11 - 11. Jack again pushed the ball wide of the far post, but this one was not easy. 25 minutes to go.
Now it was all Cantabs, but our backs struggled to put a decent move together, with our passing becoming ragged, causing handling errors. The pressure was telling on the Canvey pack and before long Jack had another shot at goal from 30m, but again failed to capitalise. Time and time again we took the ball against the head, with the Canvey scrum in a deal of disarray. However, Isaia was twice penalised by the referee for not pushing straight when all through the game their back row were failing to bind to their ragged scrum.
Canvey though were soaking up the pressure. Mick rang the changes in the pack with Luke and Shane given a break, bringing Ed Kirkham and Ben Tozer into the game. Another good clearing kick from the Canvey flyhalf put us under pressure, they won a rare penalty well inside our 22 and suddenly were back in front 14 - 11, with only ten minutes left on the clock.
Francois had another good run down the right from fullback, but was well tackled into touch. Cantabs were now looking desperate the Searles' shouting was getting louder, but despite the pressure from our pack, Canvey again broke clear, winning another penalty, which their unerring flyhalf kicked through the posts from 35m. Now five minutes to go and at 17 - 11 the Cantabs faithful were fearing the worst.
Somehow the play moved inexorably towards the Canvey line. Three scrums took us to 15 metres, the pack did its job, the drives from Perks and Jonnie took us close, and then it was Isaia, all thought of ice gone, who made the final drive over the line, just touching down 20m to the left of the posts. Up came Jack, spotted the ball just outside the 22, and kicked through the middle.
Game over, 18 - 17 to Cantabs; cue great celebration!
On our second half performance we deserved the win. Tough on Canvey at the death, but last season we had two losses such as theirs, on the last kick of the game. What goes round comes round as they say. This was a great performance from our pack and some lovely experience for our younger players which will stand them in good stead during the remainder of the season.