As I woke up on Saturday morning I realised that today was to be my last game for Cantabs 2s this season. Thinking back, it's been a campaign of mixed results - a large number of injuries throughout the club made it hard for us to get a grip on the league early on, and consecutive losses to Shelford, Cambridge, Renegades, Sawston & Cambridge again in Oct/Nov meant we had some catching up to do. As new players joined, others returned from fitness and, crucially, numbers of players at training improved, the results started to come and my job became a little easier. The first games against Shelford and Cambridge had been one sided affairs, but second time round the Scores were held to within 2 points. We dished out some hammerings too - Ely, March & Newmarket all ended up on the receiving end of big Cantabs wins, but our victory of the season so far had been the hard-fought double-header win against Cottenham which showed how far we had come and more importantly allowed us to progress through to todays final. We finished the league in 5th place with a points difference of +192 - a bloody good result, so thank you to every Cantab that played their part.
On to finals day. The atmosphere was electric within the Cantabs camp, as both the 2nd and 3rd team arrived by bus - intent on taking 2 pieces of silverware with us to the annual club dinner that evening. As is always the case with Cup finals, all players crawled out of the woodwork and it was great to see that at this stage of the season we can put out genuine 2nd and 3rd teams with a full complement of subs. Our opposition today was Newmarket's Development squad, who had beaten Ely Dev 20-3 to get here. I have a lot of respect for Newmarket Dev, they too had a torrid start to the season - having to wait until January before they recorded their first league win. We had beaten them twice previously, but in both games our opposition had kept their heads high, played until the final whistle and given our scrum some serious thinking to do. They have a strong pack, solid determination, top sportsmanship and some handy players that we needed to keep an eye on, but deep down we knew that our 2nd team at full strength should be able to record a great victory on Saffron Walden's 1st XV pitch.
Newmarket kicked off in front of a good crowd of spectators and the GK Premiere Plate Final was underway. For the first 10 minutes Cantabs kept the ball tight, crashing up in the forward a few times before moving the ball to the backs. We slowly progressed up the field and soon managed to move the ball out through the hands into winger space that the defence were not wide enough to cover. Shortly after that no. 9 Josh darted his way through the opposition line and touched down under the posts - a good start for Cs, 2 tries up after 15 minutes.
What our smaller younger pack gained in mobility, we perhaps lost in set piece power and Newmarket's scrum was once again causing us problems. A penalty to the opposition gave them an attacking line out in our 22 which saw them hit another effective 5 man and started the trundle towards our try line. Crash ball after crash ball came at us, but our defence dug deep and managed to hold off the attackers for a good 5/10 minutes. Eventually we got the ball back in our hands and made our way out of the danger zone. I believe it was this defence that caused Newmarket's heads to drop - if they couldn't get through us this way, they had some rethinking to do.
It was clear that our game plan was going to work. We would crash the ball in a couple of times to suck in their big guys, then move it out wide to our backs, who today were running hard and fast and moving the ball with ease, supported by our pack all over the field. Slowly the tries were coming despite the determination of Newmarket, and the first half saw Josh claim his second, Fergus break through on the wing and Luke score at the end of a cracking run in open play. Lovett had brought his kicking boot, knocking over conversions and putting us into space when needed, proving why he has been the rock of our 2nd team this season and how he earned his place in the England Deaf Squad. Talking of second team heros, The Tozer Show was once again unstoppable.
Shane had a storming first half, accurately hitting his jumpers at line out, running hard lines and putting in some serious hits - he gave way to Charlie Searle at half time, who had decided that his trip to hospital on Thursday after training would not keep him from playing his part in this story. Shaggy gave way to Dan Searle, who always brings the tackle to the game. Finlay took over from his younger brother on the wing. Ryan Barry has been one of Cantabs top additions this season, with a physicality in defence that always takes me by surprise and a commitment to the club that should be recognised - he gave way at half time for Ollie Rust to step in at scrum half, a welcome return to action following a leg injury earlier this year.
The second half got underway and Cantabs continued to turn the screw. Harri had been looking dangerous all day and it wasn't long in before he was given the ball and a little bit of space. Sidesteps one, sidesteps another...puts the gas on and gets himself a fantastic score! Having performed as expected, Harri stepped aside for Ash to come on and play his role in the win.
Any time Newmarket did get the ball out to their open runners, they were met by our defensive line - usually the swinging northern arm of Drew to halt their progress. Drew and Joe both had a storming game, scoring a try each and giving me the hope that this centre pairing will stick throughout next season. Credit also to our other pairing of Woolley and Nat. Both running hard and playing smart - Alex received almost every kick off and the two of them linked up very effectively on a number of occasions. I managed to cross the line twice, one time running hard through the scattered defence, and one offload which I just about managed to collect before their fullback covered back and stopped me at the try line - the jelly babies eaten in the changing room just about giving me the extra weight to flop the final inch to touchdown. The final score of the day was to go to Fin. Getting his third of the match (yes he did get the jug/watering can in), he collected the ball on one wing and darted and weaved his way to score on the far side.
Overall a fantastic win for Cantabs. On our day we really can put on a performance, and this week every single player put in the effort to ensure that it happened. Final score was 75-0 with tries going to Denman x 2, Josh x 2, Finlay x 3, Fergus, Drew, Joe, Ian, Harri & Luke. Lovett scored 5 conversions.
Man Of The Match goes to Ian Watkins. Throughout the game he bossed the lines outs, rucks and mauls, turned over all sorts of ball, ran hard rugby and scored himself a smashing try. Ian has always been a player I've massively respected at Cantabs, for both his physical ability and knowledge/management of the game. We wish Ian the best of luck for his move to South Africa, he will be sorely missed by our club.
Dick Of The Day goes to Nat Higg, as it does most weeks. Despite playing a good game, there was one incident when Nat had just the fullback to beat and support either side of him. A pop left or right would have guaranteed a try and but Nat decided to take the man on...he didn't win. Skip to the second half and Nat is on the ball again - this time he doesn't make it to contact, his feet give way underneath him and he hits the floor unassisted. I had to laugh.
I have enjoyed this season immensely, and I am very proud of what we have achieved. We have once again done what our 2s and 3s do best - brought home the silverware. And boy did we celebrate!
2nd Team Player of the Season goes to Shane Rea. His commitment on and off the pitch is extraordinary - training every single week, giving players lifts, always making himself available and playing until the final whistle even when his body is in shreds beneath him. He has represented the 1st XV on a number of occasions this year, as all 2nd teamers should be aspiring to do but remains one of the nicest, most sociable and humblest players in the club. It is fitting that the elders decided to award him the 'Most Improved' trophy as well.
It's been a bit of a nightmare at some points trying organising the teams this year, but it's always worth it when it comes to game day. When everything comes together like it did on Saturday, this club is truly magical. I thank everyone who has helped me do my job - in particular coach Mick Jones, vice-captain Toby Shaggy Domeisen and Cantabs life-blood Dan Searle. I would like to take this opportunity to step aside for next season, and encourage someone to step up into the 2nd team captains role - 2 trophies in 2 years and 2nd XV top try scorer seems a good record to step down on!
We have one more game to go - The County Cup final next week vs Shelford 3s. Despite half the club being on tour in Magaluf, we will be fighting for the double and encourage everyone to come down and support us - it would be excellent to stuff the Peacocks one more time before the summer break.