This was the big one; Sudbury unbeaten in first place versus Cantabs in 2nd and what a match it proved to be. Perks back in at tight head, recovered from a back spasm. Otherwise much unchanged team from the previous week and pretty much the best team we could muster on the day. Sudbury revealed likewise apart from a missing right winger, so a very large crowd settled to witness the match of the season so far. Among them a good number of travelling Cantabs supporters.
Sudbury kicked off down the slope on an absolutely glorious pitch, beautifully presented and a credit to the home club. Cantabs spilled the ball a couple of times, Sudbury formed a maul, which Cantabs struggled to contain. This trundled towards our line from the 22 and suddenly with all our pack sucked in and defending on the slippery surface, the ball was slipped out wide to the left and their winger dived over in the corner. Four minutes on the clock and Sudbury were buzzing at 5 - 0; the crowd in raptures. Nothing new there, Cantabs always seem to concede an early try these days; this one was not converted.
For the next ten minutes apart from some good tactical kicking from David at 10 and Dwayne at 12, we were under severe pressure with penalty kicks and kicks out of hand pushing Cantabs back into our 22. The Sudbury backs were looking threatening at this stage and only desperate defence and spilled passes prevented further scores. In the scrums we were already showing our dominance but lineouts were not as successful with Thom overthrowing on the first two.
It was a long kick over our defence which put Finlay under pressure on our right wing and his hurried pass to Irish James at fullback added to the mayhem. Somehow Cantabs cleared but Irish did not get up. He subsequently left the field with a bad cut above the right eye and took no further part in the game. So, Harri Beasley on, and Francois moved back to full back.
Cantabs then started to get more and more into the game with our centres both having good runs, and our forwards making themselves a nuisance at every breakdown. Our tackling improved and Sudbury were starting to look ragged. Then Dwayne did what only Dwayne can do; he picked up the ball on their 10m line and instead of charging forward as he had been, he drove a right foot kick way out wide to the left beyond the cover defence. Harri was quickest to the ball and won the race to the dead ball area to make the score. Great kick from David with his left foot from 10m in and the Sudbury faithful were quiet at 5 - 7.
The rest of the half definitely went to Cantabs and apart from one or two five metre lineouts when Sudbury did manage to kick their way up field with well struck penalties, the pressure was coming from our pack. Time and again Sudbury front row was coming up in the scrum and their back row was breaking too early, but the referee had not penalised them. On the contrary Cantabs were penalised for collapsing! Our forwards continued to tackle and ruck superbly, setting up David for the kicks into the corner. One such kick resulted in Seb being held up over the line from the catch and drive. We had a late chance to increase the lead with a penalty from 30m out when David was cynically taken out inside our 22, way after he had kicked clear. The referee gave the Sudbury flanker a good lecture but no card and our penalty was moved way into their half where the ball had landed. David took his time, but the kick went the wrong side of the upright; no further score at half time.
Isaia was rested for Jon Lineham at the break and from the restart Cantabs continued to press. Ruck after ruck was won and we moved the ball towards the Sudbury line. Finally Aaron slipped the ball out to the left and one pass later, Harri had dived over for his second try five metres in from the corner. Great kick again from David and Cantabs were away at 5 - 14.
A similar period of pressure from our forwards almost got us to the try line yet again but Seb put his body on the line just once too often and had to leave the game with a shoulder injury. Enter captain Dan who had been pacing the touchline to that point. Then Ryan Bigland took a knock and was forced to retire; Isaia being restored to loose head with Jon Lineham moving to second row. Cantabs were now looking weary and Sudbury were back in the game with the crowd willing them on. We were penalised out on the right and the Sudbury kicker kept his head with a great pressure kick, making the score 8 - 14 with less than fifteen minutes to go.
The penalty seemed to herald a Sudbury revival and with the crowd roaring them on they broke clear on the right, our defence was too slow or too weary to get across and the outside centre touched down 10m from the right hand corner. Not an easy kick, but their full back kept his head and made the kick; now 15 - 14, with three minutes left to go. Cantabs refused to give in though.
They kicked long, Francois ran it straight back at then and somehow dragged three tacklers with him. A penalty was won, David made the corner, we won the lineout and the forwards took over. Our pack bombarded the line; man after man making the odd yard or so and protecting the ball. Rich, Perksy, Shed, Thom and Isaia all going close. But close is not enough, and Isaia it was who was held up over the line. Scrum to Cantabs on 5m, Sudbury penalised for transgressing yet again. Big decision time; we went for the kick not another scrum having been told last play.
David took the ball back past the 22 line to get some angle, lined up the kick, stepped up and struck it well enough; but lady luck was with Sudbury. Final score 15 - 14.
I think the pack deserved a communal man of the match for outstanding play on the day. We dominated the Sudbury pack in all areas of the game other than lineout. They certainly will not look forward to a repeat session at Sedley Taylor Road on 7th March. The title is not Sudbury's just yet, they are now eight points clear of us, but it's certainly not over and we will have a massive say in who goes up. A great game which neither team deserved to lose probably; but yet again we came away without a win.