Unbeaten league leaders Sudbury were the visitors to Sedley Taylor Road for this top of the table clash. For Cantabs the home squad had a familiar look. The game was clearly going to be a case of whether Cantabs could restrict the speedy Sudbury backs and whether Sudbury could live with our pack. The surface conditions were ideal for a game of running rugby, and it was a shirt-sleeved crowd that eagerly awaited the whistle.
Cantabs kicked off towards the clubhouse and nearly made the high kick, but were adjudged to knock on. Sudbury were easily pushed off their ball from the resulting scrum. The next scrum to Sudbury inside their 22 was turned by Cantabs and the expected pattern of play continued with all the play in the Sudbury half for the first ten minutes. However the Sudbury defence ominously had held firm and despite that territorial advantage Cantabs had not troubled the scoreboard.
Sudbury finally broke clear and sure enough their backs looked dangerous as they worked the ball towards the Cantabs half. A break down the right following a kick over our defence saw the ball charged down from David Reed's clearance kick. The Sudbury backs were on it like a flash and their right winger raced over the line. Sir brought the celebrations from the travelling fans to an abrupt end, by awarding Cantabs a penalty, David being dragged back from winning the bouncing ball. The writing was on the wall though; Cantabs just had to keep it tight and stifle the Sudbury backs before they could get going.
Cantabs maul was working well but the young Sudbury side were making life difficult by chasing down any attempts from our backs to move the ball wide. Another penalty to Cantabs gave David the chance to find touch just 20 metres out, Seb took the ball well from the throw and play was switched over to the left wing where David Bloxsum went close; Sudbury scrambling the ball into touch. Thom Bailey's throw was taken brilliantly in the air by Seb, he crashed to the ground and our forwards mauled the ball over him, and it was Perksy that rounded off the move with the first try of the game ten metres in from the touchline. Great conversion from David followed and Cantabs were 7 - 0 to the good after 22 minutes played. Seb was helped off the pitch, after some lengthy attention; Ben James took over at No 8. A big blow for Cantabs and an even worse one for our influential No 8 as it transpired that he had broken his tibia.
The lead did not last more than two minutes, virtually from the restart Sudbury broke clear on the right and made the line with ease scoring to the right of the posts, and close enough to make the kick a formality; 7 - 7 and game on again.
From the restart the Sudbury forwards were into the ruck off their feet and yet another penalty was awarded to Cantabs. From 30m to the left of the posts, David made the kick and we were back in the lead at 10 - 7.
Sudbury backs were immediately back in full flow, and a jinking run down the left, fantastic support from their centre allowed their left winger the easy score in the corner. The try was converted and for the first time Sudbury had their noses in front at 10 - 14.
Shortly afterwards, Sudbury then scored again; this time unconverted making the score 10 - 19, and at this stage of the game were looking to run us ragged with their backs coming more and more into the game. Cantabs for their part were winning the scrums and trying to get Sami and Finn through the centre, but the Suffolk back row forwards were quicker onto the ball and were either turning over possession or winning penalties as Cantabs held on. The Sudbury cover defence was also restricting us out wide. Clearly we had to keep the ball tight.
Sudbury then collapsed another Cantabs scrum and from in front of goal, David made no mistake bringing the score to 13 - 19, which is how it stayed until half time.
No immediate changes from Mick at half time and the second half started with Cantabs doing all the pressing. For the first five minutes Cantabs forwards were making life difficult for Sudbury. Yet another infringement at a scrum just ten metres out allowed David to slot home another kick; 16 - 19. Sudbury were content to give away the penalties rather than tries, and surprisingly with the penalty count mounting no player was yellow carded. The Suffolk side seemed to know that their chance would come again if the play went open.
Sure enough, Sudbury finally broke clear and from a scrambled scrum just outside our 22, they suddenly had three men against two on the blind-side and it was their right winger that made the try line. Not converted, but it was their fourth and a bonus point at 16 - 24.
Cantabs were not finished and yet another penalty gave David a chance to make the left hand corner. Pete Collins took the catch form the lineout, the maul gave Perksy his second try. This time David could not hit the target, but we were still in it at 21 - 24.
Charlie Searle and James McCaughran came on for Thom and Finn as Mick needed some fresh legs for the finally quarter of the game. Our scrum was still dominant, with all of the Sudbury back row unbound and Cantabs winning yet another ball against the head, Sir adjudged the ball out and Sudbury had stolen possession. Mick and the Cantabs faithful were livid, but the referee's decision had allowed the Sudbury backs the space and suddenly they had crossed the line yet again; 21 - 29 with the kick again wide.
For a while this knocked the stuffing out of Cantabs; but yet another penalty into the left hand corner gave our maul and then scrum another chance. Somehow Sudbury survived this onslaught, and broke away yet again. Their back moved from their own 22, finally scoring the sixth try in the right hand corner; 21 - 34.
Cantabs forwards were not to be denied. Perksy again crossed the line following a catch and drive in the left hand corner, but was adjudged held up. The resulting scrum saw Sudbury in total disarray and finally Sir had seen enough, awarding a penalty try. Easy conversion from David and we were back within range again at 28 - 34 with five minutes to go.
Sudbury were within sight of the finishing post and defended hard in the last minutes to deny Cantabs yet another chance of a final try to win the match. Cantabs just prevented another score in the corner and broke away up-field and went close to breaking clear again, but this time Sir awarded a rare penalty to Sudbury with Cantabs going off their feet in an attempt to win the ball in the opponents 22. And that was that, the win to Sudbury and with it the Championship.
As for Cantabs, just one losing bonus point, and the knowledge that we are now third in the division, albeit with a game in hand on West Norfolk who still have to travel to Sudbury. Lots of honest endeavour from the whole squad but the pace of the Sudbury backs proved our downfall.
Sudbury with six tries from their backs fully deserved the win and the championship. Cantabs have the strength in depth to get over the line as runners up, but we must win all remaining games to be sure.
Elsewhere, Cantabs 2nd XV had a storming win (78 - 12) away against Mildenhall and with this moved to the top of Eastern Counties 2W. A win next week against Saffron Walden 2nds will put us close to the playoffs for a place in Eastern Counties 1. When you consider it was only three seasons ago that our 1st XV were in that league, it shows just how ell the club is progressing.
Our 3rd XV also managed to rack up the points with a 56 - 24 win against St Ives 2nds.
Finally, best wishes to Seb Trower for a quick recovery, his talents will be sorely missed in the final games of the season.