Cantabs first ever appearance in the RFU Intermediate cup proved to be our only one of the season. Fullerians, last seasons' champions of London 3NW and Senior Cup semifinalists, proved to be too strong for a makeshift Cantabs XV.
Too many absentees, particularly in the backs, had left Mick Jones with a few headaches. No recognised hooker meant prop Sam Howes had to learn his craft as the game developed and at this level the learning curve proved to be steep. For the first time in six seasons our front row, aided by some dubious tactics, took half an hour to counter the opposition's front row. The lineouts also looked weak in the first half. With so little ball won from our set pieces, Cantabs were run ragged in the first half by the Fullerians superior backs.
Our sole score in the first half came about following a well struck penalty from James Hayward which found touch in the left hand corner of the embankment up against the railway line. Sam's throw from 8m out was well caught and our pack demonstrated the catch and drive to perfection to touch down. This was our only score and by half time we had turned round at 5 - 26 in arrears with the game already lost.
Dave Evershed and Pete Collins were brought on at half time, with Pete moving to No 8 and Stefan Pritchard taking up his more accustomed role at 2nd row alongside Shed. Cantabs started the half well and reduced the deficit with a well taken try from Ben Charlton on the left wing to make the score 10 - 26.
By now both scrums and lineouts were performing well, but two breakaway tries scored under the posts allowed Fullerians to stretch their lead to 10 - 40. Cantabs were now dominant up front and another well-placed penalty from Hayward to the corner, brought our catch and drive into play. Same result as previously; the unconverted try providing a final scoreline of 15 - 40.
Thus was our worst home defeat for at least six seasons and will be a wake up call, hopefully. There will be very few easy games at this level and Cantabs can as they say "now concentrate on the league".
We effectively drew the second half with two tries apiece and for me there were some promising aspects of the game. Gary Nightingale performed very well at scrum half, having started the game as our third choice No 9. James Hayward made some decisive breaks and kicked from hand beautifully. Back-row forward Stuart Williams, playing out of position at centre, showed some good aggression and committment and will be an asset at flanker. Pete Collins caught well in the line when he came on in the second half. Evergreen Jonny Heaver demonstrated his versatility and experience wherever he was positioned in the pack.
Jon Perks awarded man of the match to hooker Sam Howes, who improved immensely throughout the game and showed he could hold his own at No 2 if required.
I think we lacked speed in the backs and in the end that was the telling factor. Our fitness and tackling also has to improve, but the opposition was probably as good as we are going to encounter throughout this season. With a plethora of first team squad members ready to play next week, Mick is going to have a difficult job on his hands for the away fixture against Romford & Gidea Park as our division 2NE gets under way.
All the big games in the World Cup will be shown on a new giant screen in the clubhouse with the first game of Fiji versus England commencing the programme on Friday evening at 8.00pm - you will be most welcome to join me and the lads!