Cantabs made their way to north east London knowing a win over Wanstead would put them into 4th in the league, leapfrogging Wanstead in the process. Skipper Rich Ford was a late withdrawal with an injury he picked up on Thursday evening, Alex Woolley stepping up from the seconds to replace him in the back row.
Cantabs were greeted with the customary Wanstead fertilizer sporadically applied to the pitch, but this kind of fertilizer is not the kind you want to be falling in head first as it is supplied by the local residents canine division. How games are allowed to be played on this pitch, and the Wanstead players happy to play in it, only they will know. Head coach Mick Jones remonstrated with the referee regarding the issue, and Wanstead cleared our 22 area just before kick-off but for some reason failed to clear the rest of the field much to the disgust of the coaching team and visiting players.
Jack Sykes got the game underway with Cantabs attacking down the undulating pitch, East to West. In the initial period Cantabs had the lion’s share of possession, making inroads into the Wanstead defence at will through strong runs from Isaia Barbieri, Warren Cowan and David Evershed. A good break was slowed down illegally and Ali stepped up to take the first points 3 - 0 to Cantabs. This was the marker for the first 20 minutes, with every time we got in the opposition half they would kill the ball. Unfortunately the usually reliable Ali had left his kicking boots at home missed a number of kicks which should have seen Cantabs up by 12.
From one of these missed kicks Jon Perks gathered the resultant 22 drop out and went on a strong charge into the Wanstead 22. Unfortunately it was a little too strong for the referee on the day as, a strong arm fend to a would-be tackler trying to go far too high, was deemed to "too aggressive". The Cantabs side-line looked on in bewilderment and had to wonder what game we were playing.
In true Cantabs fashion we made 2 basic mistakes, well inside the Wanstead half, failed to react, and in fairness to Wanstead they clinically finished them both off. Somehow we were suddenly down 12 - 3 from the only 2 visits to our 22. Again we revisited the Wanstead 22 and another penalty was awarded, no mistake this time from Ali. Half Time saw us trailing 12 - 6 and yet we had so much possession.
Luke Munby replaced Jonny with Alex moving into the second row. A similar pattern was emerging with Cantabs playing all the rugby, yet another penalty and the points added making the score 12 - 9. The Cantabs scrum was working well, putting Wanstead under pressure every time regardless of the put in. With the Wanstead scrum in disarray, disintegrating and their entire back row unbound and running backwards the penalty somehow never came but the platform was certainly set. Cantabs were making good inroads in midfield with Messrs Perks, Cowan & Shed into the heart of the Wanstead defence where tacklers hesitate to put their bodies on the line. Yet again another penalty was awarded and Ali levelled the score 12 - 12.
Cantabs now had their tails up and started to string together some very good passages of play, backs and forwards interlinking and putting into practice the recent training sessions. Both coaches, Mick Jones and John Blenkham, will have been proud to see their work starting to come to fruition. Cantabs worked the ball left and right pulling the Wanstead defence from one side of the pitch to the other. Following a series of phases the ball was moved wide for Harri to speed over to open his 1st XV account this season and take Cantabs back into the lead, the conversion from nigh-on the touchline was missed, 17 - 12
Following the restart, Warren went on one of his bulldozing runs but the Cantabs injury curse struck again with the big fella suffering a hamstring injury and having to be replaced by Shane. At the same time Francois who had impressed at his new position of outside centre was struggling with a calf injury and was replaced by Paul.
Cantabs pushed forward and worked their way up the pitch until we were camped on the Wanstead 5 meter line. The pressure at scrum time finally told and penalties started going the Cantabs way. Scrum after scrum Wanstead could not handle the pressure and, after ref issuing a final warning, the scrum finally resulted in a push over score for Bevan Whyte. Ali narrowly missed the conversion way out right, score 22 - 12 and in total control or so it seemed.
The Achilles heel of Cantabs has been allowing the opposition to score from our own mistakes. With only minutes left on the clock Wanstead again took the opportunity and scored under the posts making the final minutes a bit more nervous than it should have been, but Cantabs held on for a well-deserved win of 22 - 19. It could have, and should have, been so much more.
The win takes Cantabs up to 4th in the league and stretches our current run to 3 wins on the trot. With players starting to return from long term injuries things are starting to look a lot brighter as we continue our push for a top two finish. A tough game against Upminster at Sedley Taylor Road is up next; make sure you join us to cheer on the lads.