Three wins out of the last three games would see Cantabs promoted. A tough task and the first of these at fifth in the table Upminster would need a better performance than at Beccles in the previous week, Debut for flanker Henry Pattinson on the wing, and a return for James McCaughran at fly half in the absence of Euan Willder. No backs in the substitutes, a concern should we suffer injury.
Cantabs kicked off down the slope with the wind behind them. The first attack from Cantabs saw Upminster penalised but Simon Hallissey did not get back on his feet and our fears were realised as he limped off with ankle ligament damage, to be replaced by captain Rich Ford. Rich moved to No 8, and Pete Collins was transferred out of the pack to full-back with Francois going to outside centre. Jack went for goal from close to the halfway line but the kick fell short. Upminster did not touch down and kicked for space. Cantabs ran the ball back and with an overlap on the right we conspired to pass badly, and the chance was gone.
Jack was soon to get another chance as Upminster were caught offside in their own 22. The penalty from 18m was successful; 0 - 3 to Cantabs after five minutes. Cantabs were pressing hard down the slope but Upminster backs showed just how dangerous they could be with a break on the right.
The first two scrums showed that Cantabs certainly had the beating of the Upminster pack, and Bevan seemed to picking off everything at the lineout. But, even with all this set piece advantage, the backs play was ponderous and Upminster were pressing hard forcing errors.
Twice Upminster kicked for the corner, following penalties on half way and each time Bevan caught their lineout throws. The warning signs were there but as yet Cantabs were doing enough to thwart anything that Upminster could produce. Another penalty from Jack gained touch on 10m but this time our throw was not accurate in a swirling wind and the moment passed. Twice Upminster tried to bring in their rolling maul, but the Cantabs was equal to the task. The next clearcut chance went to our hosts with a kick central to the posts at 25m, when we offended at a ruck. The kick rapped the post and bounced out into Rich Ford's arms; perhaps it was our lucky day after all.
We kicked the ball well clear and gained a scrum inside the Upminster 22, but a great opportunity was lost with a crooked feed. At this point it should be noted that we had not lost a scrum with the Upminster pack being shoved off the ball at ease. Virtually every feed from their No 9 had been crooked, but we were penalised!
Our passing through the backs was becoming wilder, the swirling wind was not helping and the inevitable dropped pass brought on scrum after scrum. Suddenly we conspired to lose a scrum just outside our 22, and Upminster drew the penalty for offside. This time it was again in front of the posts but well inside the 22. The kick again hit the post and again Rich Ford caught the rebound. Coach John swapped Isaia for Shane to keep the front row fresh. Cantabs moved the ball up the field with Dave Evershed prominent in many of the drives, but for all our forward domination we scarcely looked like scoring. No further score at half time, Cantabs hanging on to the slender lead courtesy of the woodwork.
From the restart Cantabs looked more business like with the forwards keeping the ball in hand and after a six or seven phases found themselves in the Upminster 22. Upminster were penalised at the next scrum for not binding and Jack had a chance from wife on the left, perhaps 25m into the wind. His kick dropped short, and Upminster cleared the danger. Again and again Shed battered away at the Upminster defence, invariably making good ground. However the big break finally came from Isaia, back on for Shane. Our Italian prop made 20m before appearing to lose control as he went into the 22. Francois kicked the bouncing ball forward and Bevan dived on it and touched down. This time Jack made the kick; so with 15 minutes of the half gone Cantabs had stretched to 0 - 10.
A penalty kick to the corner from Upminster got their crowd shouting support for once and Cantabs were having to defend a bouncing ball tapped back towards our line but not gathered. We were now defending penalty after penalty on our line and Ben James broke too soon to stop a crash ball penalty, and took a ten minute break. From the resulting penalty, Cantabs were caught napping as instead of giving a big forward another chance at battering us, they shipped the ball to the left and the winger touched down in the corner. The conversion failed, but Upminster now had their tails up at 5 - 10.
Upminster were soon back in our 22, but knocked on. The referee adjudged Jack’s put into the scrum crooked. They took a quick penalty and crashed over under the posts. Easy conversion made the score 12 - 10, and Cantabs were in disarray. Ben James came back on, but Charlie Searle had to leave the field with a neck injury, Jonnie going to hooker and Shane restored to the front row. Upminster again knocked on in our 22, From the resulting scrum he ball went straight out of the tunnel but was hacked on by Bevan, The Upminster backs moved the ball smartly to the left winger. He skated in and ran unopposed under the posts; 19 - 10 with 3 minutes left on the clock.
Cantabs to their credit continued to battle, and using Shed, Jonnie and Warren to good effect we moved well into the opponents 22. Upminster were penalised for offside, Jack found touch in the left hand corner. Bevan caught the lineout and the maul formed. Rich Ford went for the line and dropped the ball, But Cantabs were not to be denied, Shed, Warren, Bevan all went close with ruck after ruck. Finally Shane broke through to touch down out near the flag. Final play and final score 19 - 15.
Save for a miracle our promotion chance has gone. Old Cooperians have two games in hand and are just two points adrift in 3rd. But we have the chance to make them sweat a little when they come to Sedley Taylor Road on 5th April; although by then they will probably have taken over from us at 2nd, as we have no game next week.
Man of the match for me was Shed, he never gave up smashing through bodies all afternoon. Cantabs desperately need to recruit a couple of backs for next season as recent injuries have rather decimated our ranks of late.