It was five years since Stowmarket had visited Sedley Taylor Road. Back then both sides were in Eastern Counties 1 with the visitors snatching the game by a single point. Another tough game was expected as Stowmarket had run Sudbury close in their last game of 2014.
For Cantabs the influential Dwayne Iese was out with a broken metatarsal and Dave Evershed was holidaying, so Irish James (McCaughran) was back at centre and Rich Ford moved to 2nd row. Ollie Lewis was hoping to make his first team debut from the bench.
Cantabs kicked off towards the railway against the breeze on a very soggy pitch and were soon in their stride. Both teams seemed to want to run the ball at one another, with play moving back and forwards as spilled passes changed possession; Dan Searle tackling like a demon. The first decent move came from Cantabs with Sami making ground down the left, and bringing Francois into play. The ball was recycled away over to the right wing where Drew just failed to ground in the corner, being tackled into touch. The referee had spotted an infringement, bought play back for a Cantabs penalty on the edge of the Stow 22, which David Reed slotted home to give Cantabs the early lead.
The restart failed to go the requisite 10m and Cantabs had a chance to test the Stow scrum. We certainly looked to have that area of the game sorted and at the very next scrum, Stow were penalised for feeding, and fly-half David kicked for the corner. Pete Collins caught the ball the backs were brought into play and Francois ran in virtually unopposed to score wide on the right. The try went unconverted but with 12 minutes gone all was going to plan at 8 - 0.
At this point the Cantabs forwards were dominating rucks and scrums, but the Stow backs, particularly their inside centre were cutting holes in the Cantabs centre field. Cantabs also looked susceptible to chips over the defence with the Suffolk men's backs looking more mobile.
It was from a couple of hacks through the centre that created the space for the Stow backs to put Cantabs under huge pressure. The play was moved smartly to the left and the try for Stowmarket followed. The try went unconverted but Cantabs now knew they were in a game at 8 - 5.
Despite Cantabs domination of all the scrums our pack could not capitalise on all the good ball and we were struggling to get out of our own half. Eventually it was Francois that broke clear feeding Drew on the right. Cantabs then had one of their better periods, going close on a couple of occasions with our forwards driving for the line. But the greasy conditions were not helping and yet again Stowmarket kicked clear, with their fast backs putting full-back Francois under pressure. The play was held up ten metres out from our posts and with Francois unable to continue, Nick Denham came on as replacement at No 15. The scrum was awarded to Cantabs for a knock-on, and we cleared only for the kick to be run straight back. Sami was adjudged to have tackled high, the penalty was bang in front 20 metres out; score levelled up at 8 - 8, with 30 minutes gone.
Stowmarket hit the front =right on half time when we made a meal of clearing our 22, and Aaron was penalised for not releasing; 8 - 11 and Cantabs just not coping with the Stowmarket running game especially with our tackling looking very weak.
Stowmarket started the second half the better and we were forced to carry the ball over the line to touch down. The Stow 5m scrum was won by Cantabs, as usual, but the clearance only delayed the attack as suddenly their centre broke through to touch down under the posts. The conversion made the score 8 - 18 and Cantabs were facing defeat.
Almost immediately, Irish James intercepted a pass on halfway and although he ran out of steam 15m out from the opponents line, the forwards were up on the ruck with a vengeance and worked the ball forward relentlessly. At the line it was Pete Collins that took the glory and the try with a dive through a melee of bodies out towards the left hand corner. David kicked the conversion brilliantly and Cantabs were back in the game at 15 - 18.
Stowmarket had the next chance with a penalty for not releasing, centrally and 28m out. Luckily, this was missed and Cantabs forced their way back into the Stowmarket red area. We won a penalty and David made no mistake to level the game at 18 - 18.
Now it was all Cantabs with our forwards mauling and rucking their way towards the try line. We were awarded a scrum 15m out and Rich Ford, now at No 8 kept the ball at the back of the scrum. Our big men bombarded the line when the scrum faltered , but could not make the score. Play was brought back for a penalty and Dan elected to go for the scrum, I actually agreed with him. Mick Jones wanted the penalty kick, and in the end Mick was proved right as the scrum came to nothing and when we moved the ball to the backs, the passes were just not good enough. The Stowmarket supporters cheered their defence and the Cantabs faithful started to think it just wasn't our day.
However, we still kept pressing and with 10 minutes to go, we won a penalty 30m out wide to the left of the posts. With his left foot David hit the penalty beautifully, and we were ahead again at 21 - 18.
Another big clearing kick from our fly-half right up to the Stow line pushed us back into the right area of the pitch, but Stowmarket cleared the danger once again. Then with just two minutes to go according to Jon Evans, Stowmarket won a scrum on their own 22. For the first time in the game they took clean ball, and moved the ball out to the right. For the first time in the game their backs combined to move the ball down the right wing, then switched it over to the left. Our defenders were left clutching air and the try followed. With the conversion missed the game was suddenly over. Stowmarket winning 23 - 21. Cantabs gutted, and even the referee getting the score wrong by awarding 25 points - such is life!
Cantabs remain second in the league but are now ten points behind Sudbury with the pack chasing us just five points away. So, we still have it all to do; but with a good points difference, Cantabs just have to keep grinding out the wins from now on to gain promotion.