Cantabs opponents at Sedley Taylor Road were Upminster, so a hard fought and close encounter was to be expected. Upminster had put 40 points on Beccles the previous week and Cantabs were on a winning run of three. Warren Cowan had failed a fitness test in mid-week, so Rich Ford moved to 2nd row. Shane Rea was also out with a broken thumb until the New Year, but the Searle brothers were finally back on duty. Paddy Carson was also making his first team debut – the 46th player used this season.
Cantabs kicked off towards the clubhouse in bright sunshine and were soon on the attack winning the ball from the ruck to set Paul Graddage away on the right wing with a slick move by our back line. Upminster were caught offside and Ali stepped up to kick the points from 27m out to the right of the posts.
3 - 0 to Cantabs with just two minutes gone.
Cantabs were making all the early running with the breeze at their backs and fly half Euan it was that made the next incisive play with a lovely cross kick to the right, finding touch on the Upminster 5m line. Upminster won the lineout but could not force their way out of their 22 and Cantabs won the ball back to threaten both wings with some neat passing. The Upminster defence held firm and forced a knock-on. The resulting first scrum of the game saw Upminster shoved off their ball at an alarming pace. Cantabs duly elected for a scrum just outside the opponents 5m line, but spurned the wonderful chance of a push-over try with a disaster of a scrum. Cantabs did at least keep the ball and moved play to the left where Upminster fought bravely to deny our rampaging pack again; Isaia going very close with a barreling drive. Jonnie Heaver also went very close with a break for the line but unselfishly passed when he might have kept going.
A penalty saw them kick clear to touch for a short respite from the relentless Cantabs pressure. The Cantabs scrum won another one against the head following a crooked throw at a short lineout. However, the scrum left prop Isaia on the ground and after a lengthy spell with Nicky he trudged off the pitch clutching his chest (popped rib it transpired).
This brought the effervescent Dan Searle on at flanker with Jonnie Heaver moving to prop. But with a quarter of the game over, Upminster moved into our half for the first time and immediately started to utilise their scrum half and centre to run at the Cantabs defence. A neat kick over our defence was chased down by Bevan who just beat two Upminster backs to the ball, but the Essex men were now putting Cantabs under pressure and before our reconstituted pack could organise themselves two strikes against the head kept the pressure on Cantabs as they defended desperately inside their own 22. The pressure finally told when Cantabs were caught offside and Upminster went for the posts just 24m out centrally. Luckily for us the penalty was pushed wide to the right of the posts.
A period of good open play followed with both teams backs threatening to break free to end the deadlock. But after a dominant first quarter, Cantabs now knew they were in a game and the District line boys were gaining in confidence. Upminster then lost their big centre with a damaged right knee and one of their early threats was lost to them. The next close call was caused by a hack through on the left by Jonnie Heaver which travelled right down the left touch line and Harri Beasley out-sprinted two Upminster backs to the ball, only to knock on as he tried to gather the ball in a headlong dive for the try line in the corner. Upminster gained the put in at the scrum on 5m which Cantabs promptly won but lost control and a second scrum just 7m out followed shortly afterwards. Cantabs moved the ball to the right wing where Paul Graddage produced a lovely inside pass to Francois, who took out three defenders before he was tackled to the ground, but still retained possession. The ball was then moved back to the left and Upminster foiled another attack by touching down behind their own line. The 5m scrum was held well by our opponents but Jack shifted the ball to the right again and Paul Graddage was the grateful recipient at the end of the backs move to outpace his cover tackler scoring in the corner. Ali’s kick from the sideline rapped the far post and stayed out; but Cantabs were now 8 - 0 to the good, with just 5 minutes to the end of the half.
Upminster, to their credit came straight back at us from the restart when Cantabs left the kick to one another and gifted possession. Suddenly their right winger was racing for the corner and it took a massive hit from Paul Graddage, who had crossed right over from the other wing, to bundle man and ball into the corner flag to deny the try. The 5m lineout was duly won by Cantabs but a poor kick to touch was run back and we were adjudged offside giving Upminster a clear shot at goal from 18m centrally. No mistake, and one ball lost to the railway, made the score 8 - 3 on the stroke of half time.
Upminster came out for the second half with more menace to their game and it was Cantabs holding on, desperately trying to move out of their 22. We finally started to run the ball back at Upminster but Drew got isolated and was penalised for not releasing. Upminster elected to kick for goal from 40m and the kick dropped short. However, Ali failed to gather the bouncing kick and could only shuffle the ball back to Euan behind the goal. His kick failed to find touch and Upminster ran the ball back, moving it out to their Fijian left winger who outpaced our defenders to touch down in the corner. The conversion failed, but with just five minutes of the half gone the score had been levelled up at 8 - 8. Game on!
The restart saw Cantabs moving into the opponents half for the first time in the second period. A powerful scrum saw the Upminster pack in disarray again and we were awarded a penalty 35m out from goal. Ali duly obliged with the ball just dropping over the crossbar; 11 - 8 to Cantabs.
Mick rang the changes; Paddy on for Harri and Denman on for Dan Searle, but Upminster came back at us and equalised the score again with a lovely drop goal; 11 - 11, and the Cantabs faithful were fearing the worst.
For the umpteenth time Ali ran the ball back at the Upminster tacklers, squeezing through impossible gaps to set up another ruck, Francois then had another storming run from centre dragging defenders behind him and still clinging onto the ball for all he was worth. Again, Upminster were caught offside, this time 30m out, and again Ali made no mistake; 14 - 11.
Perks was the next to threaten with a bulldozing run from half way which took him past all the defence, and with one man to beat well inside the 22, he looked for support that wasn’t there, slipped and was tackled. Cantabs were now on top and Ali it was who broke clear with a mesmerising run through their defence. His pass out to the left wing was adjudged forward and Upminster survived. Paddy demonstrated his potential with a lovely scything run to set up the ruck and so it continued, When Upminster did get into our half the defence held firm, no penalties were conceded and Dave Evershed, Charlie or Rich Ford won the hard yards or Jack and Euan kicked us to safety. When the final whistle came Cantabs were camped deep in the Upminster half, Ali had a further penalty attempt following yet another offside, but there was no further score.
Fourth win on the bounce for Cantabs leaves us secure in fourth place, now just one point behind early league leaders Sudbury who seem to be slipping away somewhat. New leaders in the division are Campion who we lost narrowly to in the first match of the season. Euan was awarded man of the match, top tackler was Luke Munby.
We are away to Old Cooperians next week; they are currently placed second, so another tough match in store. Our final league fixture of the year will be at home on 14th December against Wisbech and features our Christmas Lunch. Book now to avoid disappointment!