Cantabs 2's first league game finally came around on Saturday following a vigorous pre-season. We had played Sawston 3 times last season - 2 league losses (including 3 ambulance visits) and a big cup win at the end of the season. What we expected was a team of big experienced players with a scrum to be reckoned with - which is exactly what turned up.
Cantabs kicked off and immediately applied the pressure, the ball was taken into a ruck and Sawston put in a clearing kick which didn't make touch. Cantabs took it into play and then the ball was spilled into touch. I-m not sure if anyone knows what the reason was, but the ref had decided that we were to restart the game. So 2 very confusing minutes later, we start the match again.
Within the first five minutes it was scrum time and Sawston took delight in lifting our front row a metre off the ground and tearing our scrum apart. Some defending to do, but we eventually got the ball back. Lovett put in a cracking touch finder and the opposition found themselves with a lineout on their 5 metre line. Line out didn't go to plan and once again Sawston bent our front row into pieces - however this time they would not get away with it and Cantabs won the penalty - which Lovett put through for an early 3-0 lead.
The opposition had their usual big man at 10 with some fairly hefty centres too, so it was key we shut them down swiftly in defence. 15 mins in, one such rush defence resulted in turnover ball which Cantabs immediately converted into points - the ball moved through hands quickly to Simon on the wing who made his way over the line for Lovett to convert - 10-0
Cantabs were penalised 5 mins later for being offside whilst defending our 22 metre line. Sawston took the kick to get their first points on the board - 10-3
Not too long after this and we are back in our half defending the barrage of big runners again. Eventually they got close to our line and our discipline slipped - Sawston penalty 5 metres out. They opted to scrum - no surprise there. They pushed us over the line and the score was levelled to 10-10, which is how it remained for the final 10 mins of the first half.
The game that Sawston play is to slow everything down to the pace they want to play at. It works very well for them, and they had a good win the week before over Cambridge Exiles. Whether its piling into rucks to disrupt quick ball, or the string of players constantly taking a knee between plays (overall there must have been 15+ mins of 'injury time' in this match) Sawston were stopping us playing how we wanted to.
The first half an hour of the second half was all quite similar - Cantabs would get the ball, play with pace and make good ground up the park - Kaz and Alex working well in the centres. We had plenty of good runs - Adam showing his strength at one point and making 30 metres, but we were not quite making it all the way to the try line and eventually there would be a set piece play. Our scrum had strengthened since the first half, but we were still winning no ball and our line out had been functioning poorly all day. After each set piece Sawston would run at us again and it would be a few minutes hard defending before we did it all again. Seb and Pete were outstanding on the flanks, working hard all game tackling anything in front of them. With 20 mins to go Cantabs were awarded a penalty in the opposition half, close to the touch line - Lovett struck well but could not quite beat the uprights.
From the sideline, we could feel that something was eventually going to happen - we looked fitter and better drilled but the worry with 15 mins to go was that we would sink into Sawstons style of rugby. We didn't - we continued with intensity and eventually Sawston gave way. Firstly their hooker was yellow carded for killing the ball at the ruck. Cantabs ran the penalty and made it to ten metres out before a second Sawston player was carded for illegal play in the ruck. Josh tapped the penalty dummied the first pod of runners and moved the ball to Shane, who got to speed and smashed his way under the posts - 17-10.
With pressure relieved, Seb gave way to fellow debutant Brad to get his first taste of adult rugby. With a two man advantage, Cantabs made the most of the final minutes of the game and made their way back into Sawstons half. Quick hands through the back line found Chris Kelly on the wing who charged his way over for our second try of the half. Final score 22-10.
This was a great win for Cantabs - although at times it felt like things were not going our way, fitness and discipline remained and this is what won us the match. A perfect start to the season.
Man of the match goes to Josh at 9 - ball delivery was great, communication was constant and he made tackle after tackle, killing off any attempt to sneak round our rucks.
DOTD doesn't really deserve to go to anyone, but this week the 'honour' goes to Darren - he played well but was the only player to leave the pitch with a knock despite being the biggest guy there!
Special mention to Matt Brown who was drafted in last minute and helped out on the sideline, ran on the water and provided injury substitution.