Cantabs were strengthened by the return of James (Irish) McCaughran and Samisoni Kididromo at centres for this cup encounter at Sedley Taylor Road. Cantabs unbeaten in London NE3 and Hitchin yet to record a win in London NW3 - so the start of another cup run for Cantabs? Ryan Bigland was making his debut at No 8, so Rich Ford, centre last week, was moved to 2nd row!
Steady rain had fallen for a couple of hours and there was no let up in the weather as Hitchin kicked off towards the clubhouse. The early pattern of play saw Cantabs pushing hard through the centre with their runners, ruck after ruck but no serious penetration. Hitchin seemed to be absorbing the pressure well and we couldn't put a move together to save our lives. Then Hitchin broke down the left, we were caught offside at the ruck and from 25 metres out Hitchin took the lead. Eight minutes gone and the score 0 - 3.
The next score was a repeat but this time from 35m on the right, struck beautifully to make it 0 - 6, with 15 minutes gone. Our kicks from hand were just giving back possession, our lineout was not working, our scrums being held and all attempts to move the game into the Hitchin 22 were ruined by poor handling.
Hitchin were using the conditions better kicking into space and before long the half got even worse when the Hitchin fly half skated through to touch down under the posts to the delight of the travelling Hertfordians. Another easy kick brought the score to 0-13. Cantabs did reach the five metre line a couple of times but the lineout was still not working and the pressure came to nothing. Francois, Irish and Finlay all had good runs and Sami kept blasting away through the middle, but invariably we spilt the ball and handed over possession. A good saving tackle from Francois saved another score.
But it got worse, with the Hitchin left winger sprinting down the wing,outpacing our defence to touch down in the corner; 0 - 20 with ten minutes of the first half to go. Cantabs did eventually get on the scoreboard with a well taken penalty by Simon from 30m. But the half finished at 3 - 20.
Isaia was off at the break with a damaged calf, bringing Charlie Searle into the action. Cantabs were now starting to make inroads and another penalty from Simon brought us to 6 - 20. Now the scrum started to perform, John moving to prop and Charlie to hooker. Scrum after scrum being won against the head. Our mauls and rucks were also making in roads. Then from a good penalty into the corner, for once we won the lineout, set up the maul with Perksy in possession. We moved steadily towards the line and it was a simple task for Perksy to claim the try. Conversion followed from Simon, and at last there was some light on the horizon. The rain had stopped and now the Cantabs backs were throwing the ball about with a degree of confidence.
Dan Searle gave way for Ben James, Hitchin were now on the back foot and all the play was in their half. A penalty was awarded to Cantabs well inside the 22. We elected to go for a scrum, and held it in steadily moving towards the line. The Hitchin pack was in disarray as Ryan finally picked up and went for the line. He was held fractionally short, but the referee awarded a penalty try for not binding. Simple conversion for Simon, and with ten minutes to go we were level at 20 - 20. Game on.
Simon was replaced by Irish at 10 and Paul Pudney and Drew Tilley took over. Lots of pressure from Cantabs but the Hitchin defence somehow held firm. Then with three minutes left on the clock and Cantabs held in their own half we gave a way a silly penalty. Up stepped Mr Reliable and slotted home the kick from 30m out on the left. Cantabs with a mountain to climb again at 20 - 23. Ruck after ruck brought us well into the Hitchin 22, following an Irish penalty to the right hand corner. Dan back on for Rich Ford, he elected for a scrum just half a dozen metres out for the line. The scrum was one, we held the ball in, then Seb Trower broke and made the line at the second attempt, only to be penalised for accidental offside. The whistle went and the game was over. Only our third home defeat in four seasons, and a game we could have won if only we had started playing much earlier.
Congratulations to Hitchin for a hard fought victory that starts their season off at last. As for Cantabs, the new boys are still settling in, and with a little more aggression and at times a bit more patience the team can still do well again this season. We now concentrate on the league and its next week again at home against Clacton to try and maintain our unbeaten run.
I thought Seb at blindside and Ryan at No 8 probably performed the best in a pretty ordinary team performance; but with the season still in its infancy things will get better, I'm sure.