First of the reverse fixtures from the first half of the season brought local rivals Wisbech to Sedley Taylor Road for this last match of 2013. Cantabs were smarting from the defeat to Coopers the previous week whilst Wisbech were on a high after beating Sudbury. So, a tough encounter was expected and coach Mick Jones expected to see some improvement in our tackling.
It could not have started more badly as Warren Cowan pulled a hamstring in warm-up and with our 2nd at Newmarket we were forced to start with only two subs. Bevan Whyte was moved to No 8, and Dan Searle took over at flanker. The game gave a first start to newcomer Paddy Carson who took his place on the left wing. Also great to see two stalwarts back from injury: Sami back at inside centre after an eight match absence and Dean James was on the bench following a similar period of recovery. The club members gathered on the touchline following a pre-match lunch, the odd pint and a roaring fire and all we needed was a hard fought game and revenge for a 21 – 3 defeat in the first match of the season.
Wisbech kicked off towards the railway and Cantabs showed that they were fired up for the game with some fierce tackling and rucking; taking the ball back towards the Wisbech half with a sustained period of pressure. It was a very fit looking Sami who made the first break with a typically strong run straight at the defence and forced the penalty on the edge of the 22. Ali made no mistake with his kick; two minutes gone and 3 - 0 to Cantabs.
Shortly after the restart, Ali taking the ball on the edge of his own 22 ghosted past a couple of players wide on the left, He then cut inside the defenders and looked to be going under the posts. A last-gasp tackle brought him down but he was not held, and went again, and again was not held, then somehow with support from Francois he made the line. Simple conversion from close in and we were really cooking at 10 - 0 after only four minutes, and those of the members who were on their second or third pudding/pint were probably surprised at the score line when they did emerge from the clubhouse.
The first scrum came after five minutes and Cantabs caused the Wisbech pack all manner of problems but great work from their scrum half saved the day. Wisbech were now pressing hard and a kick over the defence nearly gave their right winger a score, but he was tackled two metres out and Cantabs cleared. Wisbech pinned us back in our own half with a sustained period of pressure, and Dan Searle had to read the riot act to his team when too many of them started to try and referee the game. Eventually a high tackle on Francois, allowed Euan a chance to clear the ball into the Wisbech half. But another scrum to Wisbech, and yet another recovery act from their No 9 at the base of the retreating scrum allowed the visitors to move the ball out to the backs. The ball was spilt and a hack through was chased down by the Wisbech full-back, and when he gathered the bouncing ball cleanly the try was a formality. Game on, conversion successful; 10 - 7 with a quarter of the match gone.
Finlay Wilson then had a golden patch, he caught the ball in his own 22 and sprinted past two defenders before setting up our Fijian centre. Sami burst through the middle of the defence, passed to the supporting Euan on his left. Euan switched the ball back to his right with perfect timing to Francois, who beat his defender and dived over under the posts. Easy conversion from Ali brought the score to 17 - 7.
From the restart, the ball was caught by Perks, who charged forward. Jack recycled the ball quickly, and our backs moved it out to the left to a flying Paddy Carson who beat his man and cut inside from his wing, passed inside to Sami, who passed it inside again to Luke Munby in support and it was Luke's turn to dive under the posts. A great team try and probably our best of the season. Ali kicked the ground rather than the ball, but at 22 - 7 Cantabs were away.
Again Finlay ran the ball back at Wisbech, recycling the ball following contact and allowing Euan to probe the Fenmens' defence yet again with a telling kick into space. Dan Searle then showed that he is on the road to full recovery with a brave tackle, receiving a boot to the head for his troubles. The referee decided that the Wisbech number 3 should take a ten minute break for violent conduct, as Dan recovered. Jack's kick found touch ten metres inside the Wisbech 22. The lineout was caught by Bevan and the rolling maul moved relentlessly forward. At the try line Wisbech collapsed the maul causing the referee to award a penalty try. This time Ali made no mistake and Cantabs were clear at 29 - 7. This fourth try brought us only our second try bonus point of the season, but the way the team were playing more tries were on the cards.
Sure enough, the fifth try was just around the corner. Ali started the move with a run up to halfway on the right, and when Jack recycled to his flyhalf Euan; he spotted a gap, went through it, and ran from halfway diagonally right, outstripping everyone and avoiding the last man with a dive into the corner. Ali demonstrated that he really could kick, with a beautiful conversion from the touchline to make the score 36 - 7. That was it for the first half, undoubtedly the best the team had played all season and a real treat for the Cantabs faithful.
At the start of the second half, Dean James came on for Jack Sykes, but it was Francois who was the first to show attacking intention with a forceful run straight at the Wisbech defence. As usual Francois hung on to the ball taking the tacklers with him towards the posts. A period of sustained pressure from our big forwards kept the ball close to the try line. Wisbech were caught offside five metres from the line and Dean inevitably had a go for the line, but Wisbech denied him, only for the recycled ball to be seized on by Perksy who did finally make the try line with the help of a couple of his mates. Again, Ali had an easy job, and Cantabs were moving onwards at 43 - 7.
Perksy again caused holes to open up in the Wisbech defence with a typical barrelling run down the middle, well supported by Dan and Bevan. But Wisbech were now pressing and it took a dive from Ali to shepherd the ball to the safety of the touch line on 5m. Wisbech tried a quick lineout and nearly caught the Cantabs defence sleeping. The next drive from Wisbech was held up over the line and the visitors' blindside flanker was somewhat annoyed at this taking out his frustration on Isaia and gaining a yellow card for his pains.
Mike Goode was then replaced by Charlie Searle at hooker and Cantabs moved the ball out of their own half with a lovely run from Sami, who finally off-loaded the ball to Francois on the right with a pass round his tackler. The ball was the shifted back to the left by Dean, and our backs put Paddy away on the left wing. He roasted the defenders, cutting back inside at speed to score at the posts; his first try for the 1st XV. Ali somehow contrived to chip his ten metre kick wide, but Cantabs were now 48 - 7 to the good with a quarter of an hour of the second half gone.
Mick, thinking of the New Year, took Sami off at that point, and brought Jack back in the game to give him a try at full-back, with Ali moving to centre. Another good run from Finlay brought Paddy Carson into play again and he was tackled inches from the line. But our flying Irishman was not to be denied for long. A kick though from Euan was not gathered by the Wisbech defender and Paddy dived on the ball in the left hand corner for his second try. Too much for Ali from the touchline this time, but the score was now 53 - 7.
Wisbech were restored to 15 as their flanker came back on. Shortly afterwards, Dean offended twice in a minute and received a yellow himself, which made Cantabs shuffle the backs back to the starting positions. I sent Dean off to the clubhouse to put some logs on the fire.
Wisbech now had one of their better spells with their big forwards battering away at our line. A muscle strain for Dan finished his game prematurely and Isaia resumed his place in the front row with Charlie moving to flanker. All the changes in the scrum seemed to upset our pack as they lost a scrum against the head and the pressure from the Wisbech forwards allowed their replacement prop to score out to the right of the posts. The conversion was nearly charged down by Euan and he obviously did enough to unsettle the kicker who dragged the ball wide. Score now 53 - 12.
There was still enough time for our racing Irishman to make the line under the posts for his hat trick and for Ali to drop-kick the conversion. Final score; 60 – 12.
A great day for the Club, ample revenge for the defeat by Wisbech at the start of the season, and on this form Cantabs will be no pushovers in the New Year, particularly with Dean James, Sami, the two Searles, Irish James and Ben James all coming back from injury. Good to hear that our 2nd XV were able to overcome Newmarket Development at Scaltback.
Euan was named man of the match. Frankly it could have been given to any number of players. Shed at second row impressed again and it was he and Ian Watkins that put in the hard work along with our front three that caused Wisbech so much grief in the loose.
See you all in the New Year; it could be a good year if this one is anything to go by!