It was a much changed squad that travelled up to Beccles. A combination of injuries and the holiday season had decimated the three Cantabs sides that took up the fight on Saturday with the 3rd XV travelling to Wisbech a man short. But nevertheless, it was the nineteenth time this season that the Club had fielded three sides on the same Saturday.
Perksy took over from Dan at captain, Dan still suffering from concussion had to miss his first game of the season. This was the fixture we had lost last season and with it our chance of promotion, so it was with some caution we took our places for the start, and it was pleasing to see a good number of familiar faces amongst the travelling support.
James Hayward was drafted in at fly-half and flanker Joe Allison, back from injury, took over at scrum-half. Apart from Finn Morrison and Nick Denham the backs had all played 2nd XV rugby in their previous outings, but the pack had a familiar look to it so Mick Jones had ordered the lads to keep it tight and just go for the win up front.
Cantabs kicked off with a stiff breeze mostly behind them, and the play soon settled in the Beccles 22. Our first attack was thwarted by the referee pulling up Joe for not releasing, with Cantabs too slow up in support of him. Nick Denham pushed Beccles straight back into the red area again finding a good touch on the right. Beccles fumbled from the lineout and Cantabs had their first chance to test the Beccles pack. Cantabs knocked on but a second scrum to the home side was won well by our pack and Joe moved the ball out to James Hayward who timed his pass immaculately to Drew Tilley who burst through from 15m to score under the posts. James converted, so with 5 minutes gone Cantabs were at 0 - 7; as good a start as we could have hoped for.
Pete Collins won the ball in the lineout and Cantabs broke away on the right. But for a forward pass Finn Morrison would have scored. Our pack were dominant but their fly-half (wearing 12) was calling all the shots for Beccles and posed a real threat. Cantabs continued to press and moved the ball back into the Beccles 22 at every opportunity; Hayward kicking well with the aid of the wind. Joe then broke clear from a lineout ten metres out and crossed the line, only to be held up. The 5m scrum that followed was the first of many we were to witness through the afternoon. Beccles disrupted this one sufficiently to clear their lines and a sweeping move out of defence from their backs, out to the right and then back to the left gave them an overlap as Cantabs scurried back to cover. Somehow we managed to shepherd the ball and man into touch, but the threat from their backs was clear. We were penalised, and Beccles kicked to the corner, The Beccles maul formed from the lineout, Cantabs held them up initially but a forward broke away from the maul and crossed the line; with Ben James hanging on to him and the ball. Our supporters thought he was held up, the Beccles supporters were not sure, but the referee was and awarded a try. Great conversion from the No 12 wide out on the left levelled up the score to 7 - 7, with a quarter of the game gone.
The restart got Cantabs back into their 22, the home side were penalised, Joe took a quick tap, we got a second attempt at the penalty as they had not retreated ten. Perksy opted for the scrum, ten metres out and Beccles wheeled us illegally. Another scrum, again twisted horribly and Beccles hacked the ball clear. Finn Morrison nearly got clear as we broke out of defence on the left following some wild Beccles passing. He was tackled 20m from the line but Cantabs had their tails up and from the ruck our forwards drove on through a couple of phases until 10m out it was Perks who bull-dozed his way over the line for the try. James made no mistake with the kick; 7 - 14 and 30 minutes gone.
The restart was caught by Perks and with Isaia the two of them battled through the defence. Beccles won a scrum, but with the Cantabs eight destroying their pack on their put in, their No 9 had started hurling the ball into the scrum in some sort of attempt at confusing Charlie. The ball shot out of the scrum, they fumbled twice in the face of our marauding forwards and ended up holding onto the ball in the tackle. James took the penalty from the edge of the 22 and made the score 7 - 17.
James then kicked a penalty long from our own 22, making touch at the Beccles 22. We won the lineout, Joe chipped the ball over the defence and Beccles took the ball over the line under pressure and were forced to touchdown for a 5m scrum to us. Their open side flanker was sin-binned for handling in the ensuing ruck, we went back to the scrum. We messed up at the base of the scrum and it was halftime.
Shortly after the restart we were caught offside 30m out. The No 12 took the kick and scored; 10 - 17.
Cantabs attacked down the right for once and Finlay Wilson was in the move twice making good ground until tackled into touch inside the 22. Beccles were restored to 15 and Cantabs remained camped in the right hand corner; a series of penalties and scrums followed until we were just 5m out. The referee had seen enough and finally awarded a penalty try, yellow carding another Beccles man in the process; 10 - 24.
Jon Lineham joined the fray and was soon making an impact. Hayward kicked long into the left hand corner and Cantabs were up quickly to bundle man and ball into touch inside the 22. Nick Denham then had a spell at No 9, Joe moving to the left wing and Finn to full-back as Mick mixed up the squad. From the lineout Joe touched down in the left hand corner but our touch judge correctly ruled he had a foot in touch as he was tackled simultaneously grounding the ball. Five metre scrum yet again; penalty after penalty followed close to the Beccles line, and Perksy kept choosing the scrum option. Beccles were holding us out somehow, the wheel seemed to be their main ploy. As the scrum had stalled, Nick moved the ball to the blindside and two passes later James Hayward was over the line for the bonus point try. He couldn't add to the score with the conversion attempt but the score had moved out further away at 10 - 29.
Beccles were not done, and from our 10m line their clever No 12 lofted the ball over our defence out to the right corner where their full-back gathered the ball to score at ease in the corner. A well struck conversion bounced back off the post; the score now 15 - 29 and Beccles were back in the game.
Beccles immediately had another chance of a score when they broke at speed on the left but the final pass was correctly adjudged forward as their centre crossed our line. From the scrum 10m out Cantabs worked the ball forward, through Jonny Heaver, Kenji then Charlie and Jon Lineham. We were now denying Beccles the chance to open up the game again and progressed up to their 22, winning the penalty. James found touch 10m out. The lineout was won by Pete Collins, Isaia broke from the maul and was held up over the line, and we were back to scrums. Beccles used their wheeling tactics, again we failed three times, Kenji made the line and again it was adjudged held up. Finally, Kenji broke clear again and the ball went out to the right, and it was James that broke through to score close to the posts. He made the extra points, and Cantabs were home and dry at 15 - 34.
Only minutes to go, but Beccles were not done. Perhaps Cantabs had relaxed, but it was fitting that their No 12 scored his try after a great performance. He took the ball out on the right and cut back diagonally wrong-footing our cover defence to score under the posts for the best try of the match. Immediately he had drop-kicked his conversion, Sir called time. Final score 22 - 34.
Even though Sudbury were thumped 57 - 24 by Lowestoft & Yarmouth and West Norfolk hit 103 points against Old Brentwoods, this win leaves Cantabs in second place. We now need a bonus point win against Lowestoft & Yarmouth at home on 11th April and we are promoted. Don't miss it; book your place for pre-match fish and chips, Mrs Faben's puddings and a chance to see Cantabs move up to London 2 for the first time in our history.
Despite our 2nd XV having eight enforced changes, most of whom had moved up to the 1st XV, we managed to beat Cambridge Exiles 31 - 0 at Sedley Taylor Road and with that victory take our place in the County Intermediate Plate Final.