A combination of injuries and the Rugby World Cup had caused Mick Jones to ring the changes for this away match against Holt. It was four seasons since we had last met but with Cantabs eventually catching up with our Norfolk opponents in London 2NE another close game was expected; both clubs having one won and lost one at the start of the season. Nick Denham was swapped back into scrum half, David Bloxsum taking his place at full-back. There was also a debut for new centre Dominic Wrench and a welcome return for winger Paul Graddage on the right wing. Thom Marx was a late call-up on the other wing with Finlay Wilson still suffering injury from last week's knock. Good also to see Dan Searle on the bench. Clearly this was a game where Cantabs needed to keep the ball tight and try to win the set pieces with our pack.
Cantabs kicked off in great rugby conditions on a near perfect pitch. Our scrum was brought into action following a crooked throw; Cantabs took it against the head. We made our way into the Holt 22, but wasted a good chance with a crooked feed. Holt broke clear but somehow Cantabs kept them out and forced an error, enabling James Hayward to kick clear. Cantabs again put Holt under pressure in the scrum, with their loose head infringing and first chance of a score to us after 10 minutes. The kick was missed, but clearly Holt were no match for us in the scrum.
Cantabs were now doing all the pressing, and a scrum was awarded inside the Holt 22 following a good rolling maul which was finally halted. Cantabs again took the ball against the head. Cantabs bombarded the line with their forwards and the third assault from Shed was awarded with a try close to the posts. James added the extras, so we were ahead at 0 - 7.
Cantabs ran the restart back and were soon back at the Holt 22. But a forward pass on the right wasted the chance of another score. We took the ball again in the scrum, developed the maul but span the ball wide and the move faltered again. Then Cantabs were awarded a penalty five metres out, took a quick tap and went for the line. The Holt defender had not moved back to his line but still knocked the ball clear. Somehow the referee missed the infringement and Cantabs were denied a certain penalty try. Cantabs pressed again, the rolling maul got to within 5 metres, we moved the ball out to the backs and Holt intercepted and ran the ball back the length of the pitch to touch down to the right of our posts; 5 - 7 after 25 minutes.
This try seemed to spur on the home side because two minutes later they broke clear again and scored in the right hand corner. The conversion again failed, but 27 minutes into the game having created all the pressure we were 10 - 7 down.
Holt then had the chance to score on the left with a two man overlap, but the crucial pass was not good enough and Cantabs breathed again. Cantabs were being run ragged by the Holt backs and it was clear we needed to keep to the game plan. Cantabs did get back into the opposition 22, but the whistle went for half time before we could capitalise.
First chance of the second half went to Holt, but with the line beckoning, their right winger spilt the ball as he dived over; or that was what Sir alleged! Cantabs let off this time.
Again Holt ran at us, this time down the left wing, a try did look certain, the final pass to the left winger hit our last man, Paul Graddage, trying to defend 30m out, square in the chest. Sir adjudged it a deliberate knock-on and awarded a penalty try. No justice, but the score had moved on to 17 - 7.
Then Cantabs got the message, kept it tight, and worked their way towards the Holt line again. Perksy was in his element with a storming run to within 5m, but lost the ball in the tackle. Holt cleared but Cantabs ran the ball back towards their 22. We knocked on, Holt lost their scrum yet again, and finally it was Joe Allison wide on the left that had the simple chance to score, his first try for the 1st XV. James Hayward converted from wide on the left to make it 17 - 14.
Holt reached our 22 after the restart, we tried to kick the ball clear, but it went nowhere. Holt ran it back and scored under the posts; 24 - 14 after 55 minutes.
Cantabs forwards again moved the ball into the red zone, and hammered away at the Holt line. We gained a 5m scrum, Holt were penalised, we chose the scrum again, and Holt were again penalised. Four times this happened, and never once was a Holt forward warned yet alone yellow carded. No penalty try forthcoming this time!
On the fifth 5m scrum, Cantabs finally got their reward with No 8 Ben James peeling away from the base of the scrum to bully his way over the line. This time James' kick failed, but Cantabs were back in the game with 12 minutes to go at 24 - 19.
Holt never really let us break out of our half again. In fact they had 4 attempts at goal from penalties around the Cantabs 10m line, none of which succeeded. Cantabs forwards had shot their bolt and so the game ended 24 - 19, with just one losing bonus point our reward.
Dave Evershed was awarded man of the match for his continual bombardment of the Holt forwards. Holt will certainly not relish the return match in January. Cantabs need to work on their back line, but on this showing the forwards are going to compete well at this level. Next week we face Ipswich for the first time in many years; a game we can certainly win; so forget the World Cup and get down to Sedley Taylor Road, for the return of the old enemy and also the return of Roy Newman back from "up North" for the game.