Cantabs faced unbeaten league leaders Sudbury in the 1st round of the Senior Vase and it was away again for the 12th time out of fifteen cup ties in the last three seasons. Owen Lewis was promoted from the 2nd XV to start at scrum half with Jack Sykes moving to flyhalf. Charlie Searle and Isaia Barbieri were both injured so the adaptable Jonnie Heaver was in at prop. Sudbury had given Cantabs two tough games last season, so a tough game was expected.
With a young and confident set of backs, Sudbury were expected to move the ball out wide at all opportunities, and on a wide pitch it would take a good deal of disciplined defence from Cantabs to keep them in check. Cantabs kicked off in light rain and helped by a couple of strange refereeing decisions were having the best of the early play.
The first scrum went our way with Sudbury offending and the penalty allowed Ali an early attempt at goal from 35m out on the left touch line. The ball was struck well but missed at the far post. A high tackle on Chik, who had to receive treatment, allowed Cantabs the chance to push play inside the Sudbury 22. We won the lineout and the forwards tried to maul the ball towards the line. When the ball was shipped to our backs, we knocked on. The scrum went down and Sudbury were penalised. At this stage all the penalties were going our way. Jack chose to go for the 5m line and from our line out, Rich Ford caught the ball and set up the driving maul. Despite one of their forwards lying on the ground clearly trying to pull down the maul, we held on to the drive and it was Rich Ford who twisted and turned away to the left to make the try line. Ali’s kick from wide out on the right failed, but after just seven minutes play we were on the board at 0 - 5
At this stage the Sudbury management were somewhat concerned as their forwards struggled to contain our pack, and all attempts to ship the ball wide through their backs was thwarted by the Cantabs cover defence. Shane Rea, the smallest guy on the pitch caught the restart kick and Sudbury were again penalised. Cantabs continued to press forward and play brought us back into the Sudbury 22, only to knock on. From the scrum, the Sudbury inside centre kicked beautifully to relieve the pressure. This was the pattern for some time with Cantabs having by far the better of the territory, with our pack getting the better the Sudbury scrums and Jack Sykes kicking us back into the Sudbury 22.
Then, with the help of two successive penalties for offside, the play moved into our red zone for the first time and Sudbury turned down a shot at goal only 15m out, their scrum half taking a quick tap with Cantabs slow to react. Suddenly he was over the line close to the posts and the conversion was a straightforward affair for their No 12, but it still required a lucky bounce off the far post. 23 minutes on the clock and Sudbury were ahead at 7 - 5. Sudbury's first real threat to our line and they had scored and all that first quarter pressure from Cantabs was negated.
The poor handling from our backs again gave the ball back to the Sudbury pack, inside their own 22. That was very much the pattern of the first half, our forwards often driving holes in the Sudbury defence, but as soon as the ball was shipped out wide, the Sudbury defence was up on our back line forcing the error or a desperate pass. Now all the penalties were going the way of the home side, and with our scrum being penalised several times for getting too low, one of our chief weapons was taken from us.
Cantabs then had another chance to score with another catch and drive from a 5m lineout which saw Rich Ford and then Perksy go close to scoring. At the third phase a shout from the referee to "use it" seemed to make Cantabs spin the ball out to the left, rather than go again with the forwards. Needless to say, the passing was wild, the ball spilled, and Sudbury breathed again.
Towards the end of the half, Sudbury finally got their backs going and started to threaten at last. Bevan Whyte suffered badly at the next breakdown and an injury to his neck required expensive treatment from Nikki. The referee was now penalising Cantabs regularly and we had to defend desperately as the half came to an end. Bev held out until half time but was replaced by Joe Allison at the break. Time for Cantabs to regroup and get back to their game plan.
From a long restart kick, Rich Ford caught well in his own 22, started to move forward, but got tangled with another of our forwards and dropped the ball. The resultant scrum was wheeled unfairly by Cantabs, in the eyes of the referee, they took a quick tap, moved the ball smartly to the right where the winger scored in the corner. No 12 kicked a lovely conversion with his left boot from wide out on the right, and Sudbury were suddenly ahead at 14 - 5
From the next restart, Sudbury gained possession and it was their inside centre yet again that kicked beautifully back into the right hand corner. 5m lineout was caught well by Rich, we set up the maul and started to move forward, but suddenly the ball was back on the Sudbury side. They passed it out to a three man overlap on the left and it was an easy task to score under the posts. With the conversion the score moved out of reach at 21 - 5. Less than five minutes into the half and Cantabs had a mountain to climb.
Simon Hallissey came on for Chik, and Ian Watkins for Shane, but one sensed that those two soft tries had killed the Cantabs fight. Now Sudbury were dominating and Cantabs were pinned in their own half.
But, with Dan Searle screaming at our team from the touchline, we slowly got back into the game. A couple of hacks brought play into the Sudbury 22, putting the fullback under pressure, and our pack started to do what our pack can do by adding to the pressure on the Suffolk defence. We made a drive for the line but knocked on when inches short. The Sudbury scrum was thwarted and Cantabs awarded the put in on 5m. This time the decision was to move the ball to the backs and Sudbury were caught offside, We opted for another scrum, Rich Ford held the ball, the drive for the line started and Chris Walliker thought he had made the line but was adjudged to be held up. The resultant scrum to Cantabs saw both Rich Ford and Jonnie Heaver go close, then we moved the ball wide to the left, the passing was frantic, but somehow the ball reached Francois, who outpaced the Sudbury cover defence to make the corner. Ali failed with the conversion, but Cantabs were back in the game at 21 - 10 with 22 minutes left on the clock.
The Sudbury flyhalf then had to leave the field with a damaged knee, and Cantabs had a glint of a chance it seemed. However, at that point the Sudbury No 12 seemed to have other ideas. First a high kick which Ali seemed to lose in the sun, but somehow gathered and tried to move out of defence. Ali handed off one Sudbury pursuing back, but then ran into trouble and knocked on just outside our 22. Sudbury gained possession from the scrum, moved the ball to the left where No 12 suddenly switched the play with a beautiful kick back over to the right wing. The winger caught the ball and jinked past Francois to score in the corner. A great try that had the Sudbury supporters roaring their delight. Again No 12 made light of the angle, kicking the conversion to take the game out of our reach again at 28 – 10.
Cantabs fought back yet again and we did get over the line through Simon Hallissey, only to be pulled back for offside. Sudbury kicked their way back into our 22, where Jonnie Heaver was penalised for killing the ball and received the yellow card for his pains. Shane then had to be brought back on as a prop with Luke substituted. Sudbury elected for the scrum 15m out from our line and somehow our seven man scrum was able to push them back; but to no avail as their No 8 scrambled the ball back. It was an easy task for the Sudbury backs with Cantabs in disarray. The try was under the posts, No 12 made it a faultless day and the score went to 35 - 10.
That was it really our cup run never got going this season; the game petering out and the final whistle came to save Cantabs further punishment. So, in the end it was a comprehensive win for Sudbury, but in many ways it could have been so different. Were it not for that disastrous five minute spell at the start of the second half, we could have given Sudbury something to think about.
And, we have it all to do again next week with the same journey; this time in the league. Cantabs know what it will take to beat Sudbury but can we carry it out? Watch this space next week to find out.