It was all change in the back line for this visit to Stowmarket. With Sami, Dwayne, and James McCaughran all unavailable, and Euan Willder injured, Mick Jones had elected for Finlay Wilson and Paul Pudney at Centre. Isaia was back from holiday at loose head. This was to be Bevan Whyte's last game for the club as the Kiwi was heading home after three years with us. He will be sorely missed.
Stow kicked off down the slope on a well-grassed pitch on a bright windless day. Either Cantabs had not woken up or the long warm up had dulled the senses, because in the first attack of the game the Suffolk Club's centre waltzed through a non-existent defence to touch down under the posts. Two minutes into the game and Cantabs were behind at 7 - 0.
The home crowd must have thought they were onto another massive home win, and Mick had a few choice words on the matter from the touchline.
Cantabs might have heard Mick, but were soon on the attack with a well placed penalty kick from flyhalf Simon Taylor finding touch just inside the Stow 22. Good throw, good catch and a splendid rolling maul with Perksy on the ball, we made ground, wheeled releasing Master Perks just 5m from the line. Enough said, try to Cantabs and converted by Simon from out right. Four minutes on the clock and it was all square at 7 - 7.
The next good move saw debutante Seb Trower storming diagonally across the halfway line and it was 20m from the line before he was hauled down. Stow cleared the danger and the first scrum was registered with 10 minutes gone.
The home side got the next chance for points with a penalty from just inside our 10m line. The kick faded away, missing narrowly, but Cantabs were now aware that they were in a game. For some reason our back line was standing off the play too much, and the Suffolk side were starting to take advantage cutting through us at speed. A poor throw-in gave away possession but the kick down the wing was gathered well by Francois who ran it back past three defenders.
Stowmarket then blasted yet another hole through our backs and moved the ball left for a simple try twenty metres wide of the posts. The kick was well struck and true to make the score 14 - 7 to the home side. A kick over the defence was gathered well by Francois to avoid another score.
Cantabs then went through one of the worst periods of play of the season, and found themselves under severe pressure pinned in their 22. Stow gained yet another penalty for offside 24 metres out, Luckily for us the kick hit the post and bounced into the goal area with Simon just touching down first. Isaia hobbled off, with badly blistered feet and Shane Rea took over up front.
Following yet more pressure, in our 22, Dan was yellow carded for a high tackle and missed the rest of the first half. However, this bad luck seemed to finally motivate Cantabs. We worked the ball forward well and following a lineout on the left, Seb Trower shot through the Stow defence to dive over under the posts. Simon kicked the extra points, the referee blew for half time and somehow we were turning around at the interval level, at 14 - 14.
Mick had a frank discussion with the lads, Finlay was replaced at centre by Rich Ford, and Paul Graddage came on for Joe Allison.
Cantabs came out meaning business, but initially our scrum was not as effective. Just eight minutes into the half we got a solid scrum halfway between the Stow 10m line and their 22, with Aaron picking up at the back, he linked with Bevan, who fed Paul Graddage on the right wing. Paul made good ground and got the ball back to a supporting Bevan, who had a simple task to touch down in the corner. Lots of protests followed as the Stowmarket linesman had flagged for a foot in touch, but a vigilant sir over-ruled to allow the try - he was very well positioned. No success with Simon's kick this time, but we had our noses ahead for the first time at 14 - 19; just 45 minutes gone.
Rich Ford was calling the shots at centre, and the back line were now moving up at his call to restrict the Stowmarket backs. Then drama as Stow kicked ahead, somehow Perksy had anticipated the kick, caught it like a cricketer in the deep and with space ahead of him moved through the gears. Now Perksy at close quarters is bad enough, but Perksy at full speed is an awesome sight. He just went through the first misfortunate who attempted to halt him. The game was stopped for a prostrate and unconscious Stow back. Extended treatment on the pitch had the game transferred to another pitch, and it was restarted with a scrum. I am pleased to report the lad had recovered well enough to take a pint with Perksy after the game.
Simon kicked superbly into the corner, but Cantabs were kept at bay and ill-disciplined play from Cantabs saw three successive penalties awarded against us bringing play back into the Cantabs half. Dan Searle re-joined the fray. Stow were pressing but the Cantabs defence was holding out well. Isaia, complete with bandaged feet and a few studs removed, replaced Shane at prop.
Again Stow pressed, but again Simon kicked massively to touch. We were then denied a try for Paul Graddage on the right when the last pass was adjudged forward; but now Cantabs seemed to be over the worst. We were now well inside the red area, and our big men moved the ball relentlessly towards the line. Ruck after ruck with Perks, Isaia, Shed and finally a burrowing Dan just a metre short. The ball came back yet again, Seb leaped over all the prostrate bodies to touch down, US style. Simon gained the extras, and we had fresh air between the sides at 14 - 26.
Shane came on briefly again with Shed nursing a shoulder injury; only to find himself yellow carded for some mysterious reason. He was rapidly followed to the touchline by Paul Graddage who deliberately knocked the ball into touch to thwart a Stow attack; Cantabs now two men short.
Bevan, looking shattered had asked to be substituted with 10 minutes to go. But he forgot all that when he intercepted a loose pass on halfway and galloped in unopposed to touch down under the posts. A fitting end to a great three years service with our 1st XV; he will be a hard act to follow in the back row.
As Bevan staggered and limped back to halfway, holding and alternatively rubbing various parts of his anatomy, Simon wrapped up the points and the game with the conversion, to make it 14 - 33.
There was still time for Francois to make a try-saving tackle right on the line under our posts, as Stow tried to make the numeric advantage pay. Aaron kicked clear, bur Stowmarket were not to be denied with their centre finally making it to the line through a tiring defence. The whistle followed, and the final score at 21 - 33 was probably a true reflection of our second half dominance.
So three wins from the first three games, second equal in the league and at this early stage Sudbury look the team to beat, much as they had at this stage last season. A much better start for Cantabs than last season and much more to come from the side on this week's performance
Senior Vase action against Mick Jones's home club, Hitchin, at Sedley Taylor Road next week; don't miss it!