For the first league fixture of the New Year Cantabs made the trip to Wymondham, who had pushed us to the wire at Sedley Taylor Road. Since that encounter our hosts had suffered a bad run of injuries and were in the relegation zone. Cantabs captain Rich Ford was back in charge at No 8 and scrum half, Dean James, was making his first start since October; with Jack Sykes moving to flyhalf. As in the first match it promised to be a case of our forwards against their mobile backs.
Wymondham kicked off with the slope and the wind in their favour. The pitch was very greasy but perfectly playable. Wymondham were caught offside and from the first penalty of the match, Jack Sykes found a good touch on the opponents 22. The lineout was caught and the ball mauled forward at speed well into the danger area. Cantabs knocked on ten metres from the line and upset the Wymondham scrum sufficiently to get the put in. The scrum was solid, Rich ford held the ball in and was on hand to dive down on the ball as the scrum went over the line. Three minutes gone and Cantabs had the perfect start. Ali's kick was accurate but a combination of mud and wind conspired to drop the ball under the bar, but at 0 - 5 we were off to the perfect start.
From the restart, Cantabs set up another good driving maul and carried the ball well into the Wymondham half before knocking on. Wymondham held onto their scrum well and their scrum half shipped the ball wide to the left. Cantabs were stretched by a slick series of passes out to the left wing, and Ali found himself with two men racing down the wing. The Wymondham full-back was able to dive over in the corner with Ali at least keeping the try in the corner. The conversion, from the touchline, was wide, but Wymondham had tied up the game at 5 - 5 after just 10 minutes.
Wymondham then had a chance to go into the lead with a penalty attempt from 35m, but the mud spoilt the attempt. However, Wymondham backs were now pinning Cantabs back in their own half and the strong wind was preventing any distance on Jack's clearance kicks.
Cantabs were then stretched on the right wing and the Norfolk men's backs were running our defence ragged time and time again. Simon Hallissey had two good runs out of defence but Cantabs were now really up against it; pinned back in their own half. First Perksy then Ali made big tackles to prevent further scores. The latter was adjudged to have gone in with his shoulder on the Wymondham left winger and was yellow carded. A minute later, Isaia was pulled up for halting play illegally, and was also yellow carded.
So, half way through the half and down to 13, we were now stretched wide and a quick tap penalty inside our 22, allowed Wymondham to capitalise as they ran in under the posts. The conversion was a formality and Wymondham moved into a 12 - 5 lead.
Cantabs were penalised for not releasing in the tackle, and a well struck penalty extended the home side's lead to 15 - 5.
Jonnie Heaver was brought on for the next scrum on the Wymondham 10m line, with Dan Searle withdrawn temporarily. Cantabs won the scrum cleanly, Dean shipped the ball out to the right, and Paddy Carson skipped past three defenders, stood up their fullback, and scored in the corner. Too much for Jack, against the wind with his conversion attempt, but against the run of play, Cantabs were at least back within one score at 15 - 10.
With five minutes of the half left, Ali was restored to the game, and their outside flanker had to limp off after extensive treatment to a back injury. Somehow Cantabs held out until Isaia gave us equality in numbers once more; Dan replacing Jonnie in the pack. We were still under a great deal of pressure as the half finished.
Cantabs made full use of the slope and the elements from the start of the second half pinning Wymondham in their own 22 with a combination of kicks and pressure from our front five. Twice our scrum was penalised for not pushing straight, but generally Wymondham were winning very little ball from their scrum or their lineout. Rich Ford and Ian Watkins were now taking the ball to Wymondham and our big front three were battering away in the loose. Something had to give, but Wymondham were resolute in defence and handling errors from Cantabs denied us time and time again. Wymondham were also now finding it hard to clear their lines with kicks to touch.
But it was Wymondham who went closest to scoring first, when they broke clear on the right with a three man overlap. Their prop sensed glory and went on his own, and was tackled ten metres from the line, and Dean's clearing kick took us straight back into their half. Their right winger tried to run the kick back but knocked on and Cantabs needed no more encouragement. The scrum held firm, the ball was kicked into the corner by Jack, and we won yet another lineout. Shed, Perks and Ian all tried to make the line but Wymondham's defence again held out. Scrum after scrum was won against the head and Cantabs pressed hard but desperation passing let us down.
Mick then rang the changes. Simon, suffering from cramp, was replaced by Drew, Jonnie came on for Isaia, and Alex Woolley replaced Dan Searle. Francois tried to force his way through the defence line, and somehow continued to make ground with defenders hanging off him. The scrum went to Wymondham ten metres out from their line, again we won against the head but couldn't make it count as Wymondham cleared the danger. Next attack saw Dean chip forward into the corner. We won their lineout again and mauled the ball forward. Wymondham went offside yet again and, this time, were reduced to fourteen with a yellow. Cantabs elected for a scrum and pushed the Wymondham pack back over the line. Dean dived on the ball, but was adjudged to have knocked on. On the Wymondham scrum Cantabs won the ball against the head, and it was Rich Ford who scored easily at the back of the scrum. Ali's kick again went wide, but the scores were now level at 15 - 15.
The restart kick was gathered by Cantabs and from the ruck, Dean pushed the ball deep into the left hand corner. The clearing kick cleared the ball to the 10m line, we won the lineout and ran the ball back through Rich Ford. He went down with cramp and was still receiving treatment as the game continued. It was Drew who broke the deadlock, with two cuts back inside, avoided the next tackle and ran in from the 22, to score at the posts. No mistake from Ali, and with less than ten minutes to go we were ahead at last; 15 - 22, and a bonus point for the fourth try to boot.
Cantabs now started to look the part. A lovely kick from Jack inside the Wymondham right winger, caught him holding on and the Cantabs forwards cleaned up from the resultant lineout by mauling the ball deep into the Wymondham 22. Ian Watkins continued to show up well in the loose clearing up from that lineout and following up with a thrusting run down the middle. But then calamity; Drew failed to hold onto the ball inside the Wymondham 22 and two hacks through down their left wing put us on the back foot with Wymondham only denied a try by a fly kick into touch by Finlay. The lineout, for once, was cleanly caught by Wymondham, the ball shipped neatly through the backs out to the right winger who raced over in the corner. The conversion attempt dropped tantalisingly short under the cross bar, and Cantabs breathed again at 20 - 22.
We held out to the final whistle for the win; but we had been pushed all the way. A well-contested game, our third away win of the campaign and one which moves us up to third, leap-frogging Sudbury, who lost at Harlow.
Next game is against Canvey Island at home on the 11th and with the Islanders currently bottom of the league, it will be a good chance to improve our points difference. Famous last words?