The first league match of the 2015/16 season was away to Romford and Gidea Park, who had been relegated from London 1 last season. The last time Cantabs played here was in London 3NE in 1993 when we lost by 40 - 0. Again a hard game was envisaged, but with left winger David Bloxsum, centre Finn Morrison and right winger Finlay Wilson back bolstering the backline along with new boy Tim Charlton at fullback, we were hopeful!
However, a two hour standstill on the M11 had caused havoc with the team travel and disappointingly for Mick Jones the Romford Coach was adamant that the game would start on time at 14.00 and the referee was not strong enough to insist on a delay. So our warm-up was not ideal and for your Cantabs correspondent who had left half an hour after the team, the whole first half occurred as he and our supporters were still on the road.
Apparently Romford came out of the starting blocks much the stronger and before we had time to adjust to the pace and ferocity of their forwards and centres Cantabs were down by 19 - 0. Then a series of foul plays saw three Romford players yellow carded and with numerical advantage Cantabs scored to converted tries, making the score 19 - 14 as I arrived on the scene at the half-time break.
Restored to 15 a side, Romford started the second half very strongly. Sir seemed unhappy with our first two scrums, awarding penalties against Cantabs, which enabled the home side to push us back from their 22, well into our own half; taking full advantage of the down slope and the breeze. We knocked on, but at the third attempt Cantabs won the ball against the head, and got the ball out to the left to Bloxsum. He collected the pass on our ten metre line, raced past three tacklers and scored in the corner. This was his second try of the match and clearly he had the pace to beat the Romford defence out wide. James Hayward's conversion attempt fell short, but Cantabs had clawed their way back to level the game at 19 - 19. Surely there was hope?
Isaia Barbieri took a break at this point bringing Sam Howes into the action at loose head. Nick Denham kicked well from scrum half finding touch inside the Romford 22. However a good rolling maul from the lineout did the trick for the homeside. Stu Williams tackled well twice in succession to deny the rampaging Romford runners, but Cantabs were having to defend hard to keep them out. Then while defending the next scrum, we were penalised for an early push and Romford found touch in the left hand corner. Cantabs somehow kept them out this time and broke clear, but we were penalised for going off our feet at the ruck and Romford pushed us straight back into the same corner.
Another superb catch and drive raced towards the Cantabs line, with our pack in disarray. Somehow with a five to one advantage, Romford spilled the ball over the line and Cantabs breathed again. Cantabs kicked clear through Hayward but he had not found touch and Cantabs were back on their line defending again. Three times Romford were denied by the ball being held up over the line and three times a five metre scrum resulted. Finally, Cantabs cleared their line and Mick was able to bring Pete Collins back on (he had taken a break at half time)for Joe Allison.
Romford then nearly scored in the corner, just being forced into touch at the corner flag. The referee had seen some sort of infringement, and Romford went for the kick into the corner. A driving maul inevitably followed which again was held up over the line. Romford's resulting scrum held firm for once and the ball was shifted to the right and finally our line was breached with their man crashing over close to the posts. Conversion was made and we were behind at 26 - 19 with ten minutes left on the clock. Pete Collins then had to leave the field with a bad cut above the eye, and Perksy was replaced by Isaia at tight head; not Isaia's preference it has to be said.
Cantabs had one good chance to level the scores up, with Hayward's pass floating out to Bloxsum, but unfortunately grabbed by Finn and spilled. That was it, our flying winger never got another chance. Romford started to win the scrums and we appeared to have succumbed to the relentless wave of big forwards. Romford scored twice more to seal the win. Final score 38 - 19.
Cantabs, still look slightly "undercooked" as they say. We need to work on our tackling in mid field and retain possession better. This was never going to be an easy game, but at this level, not many games will be. We have Basildon at home next week, a game we have to win, to kick-start the season. This match will be followed by the England Wales game on the big screen in the clubhouse.