Back to Norwich for only the second time in 30 years to try and outwit high-flying Norwich. Cantabs were missing last week centre pairing of Sami and Alex who were both unavailable so Finn Morrison partnered Nick Denham and Xaver Touschek returned on the right wing. Stef Pritchard was back at 2ns Row alongside Shed to complete the changes from the side that had triumphed against Sudbury.
Norwich kicked off on a well grassed pitch into the wind and we tried to run the ball back from our own 22, but were caught holding on in the tackle. Norwich opted for the kick into the right hand corner, caught their lineout just five metres out and scored; 5 - 0 to Norwich, with the conversion attempt blown wide, after just one minute of play. The electronic scoreboard had also started badly, not making it past 4 and was abandoned to the elements.
Cantabs had one brief interlude in the Norwich half but the early pressure was coming from the home side. The Norwich centres and their No 8 were running the ball back at us well and we were struggling to contain them at times. We were warned for infringements at the ruck.
Cantabs then got more into the game winning a penalty on the Norwich 10m line. James found touch but our throw was blown away on the prevailing wind and the chance was gone. So it continued, Norwich pinned back by touchline kicks or penalties, and their lineout working when they needed it, but ours failing miserably. Mick was going apoplectic on the line trying to get the message across to the opposite touchline to throw short, but we could not make the territorial and wind advantage pay.
Cantabs started to tackle well and our scrum was working well but Norwich scuppered all attempts to level the score. Cantabs had a spell of 10 minutes in the Norwich half, won a scrum inside their 22, but having won possession the ball was ripped away in the tackle. Norwich moved purposefully up field, kicked out wide to the right where fullback Tim Charlton had to make a good diving save to prevent the score and was then assisted by a great clearing kick up to halfway by Nick Denham. Keegan then made the first of his enforced exits, receiving a yellow card for persistent infringement at the ruck. Norwich's penalty was wasted and then they tried to make the one man advantage pay but our scrum held firm. Finally James cleared mightily deep into the Norwich half, but again our lineout failed.
Ben James then showed everyone a clean pair of heels from a scrum inside our 22, and was finally felled on halfway. He received extended treatment to his nose, but rejoined the game. Cantabs then got the break we badly required. Flyhalf James collected the ball on the left just inside their 10m line, and hoisted a crosskick over to the right wing. This was gathered well by a charging Xaver Touschek who made the try in the corner; 5 - 5 after 32 minutes play.
Keegan returned to the fray, but Ben's game was over with a probable broken nose causing him breathing difficulties; Joe Allison was the replacement at No 8. Norwich prevented any further score so it was honours even as the half ended.
Charlie Searle came on for Tom Bailey at half time, and Mick read the riot act now he could get everyone to listen to him! Something he said must have got through because Cantabs looked to run the ball out of defence instead of trying to kick against the wind and consistently made good ground; forwards and backs combining well to make the hard yards. Keegan was taken off for the second time following a bad knock to the head. Francois came onto the right wing with Xaver moving to centre and Finn took over at flanker.
Every penalty we won was tapped and Charlie, Stef, Shed and Perksy battered away out of rucks to give our back line more and more good possession. Scrum half Toby made a great break for the line ghosting past three tackles before laying the ball back deep inside the Norwich 22. He was then on hand to try to muscle his way over the line; finishing a metre short. Norwich kicked clear, but Cantabs ran a repeat show; going through recycle after recycle to move back into the red zone. After something like ten rucks, both Shed and Perksy went close, then we moved the ball out wide to the right, good hands, finally allowing Joe Allison to make the try in the corner. Great team try which put Cantabs up at 10 - 5.
Shed, however had taken a bad knock to the shoulder in his attempt at the line and had to be replaced; Keegan came back on with a quarter of the match left. Cantabs continued with the tap penalties; the only time James tried to clear with his boot, Norwich were straight back at us. Norwich then went close and in his attempt at preventing a score, Keeegan suffered another blow to the head and left the game for the third and last time. Tom Bailey was brought back on, Charlie now at second row. Tom, however, was soon off again with our second yellow of the match.
With just twelve minutes to go, Norwich won a penalty inside our 10m line, and kicked well into the corner. We knew the catch and drive would follow, we were not quick enough to slow the momentum and Norwich levelled the scores with a try in the right hand corner. Their kicker took the ball way back but judged his kick and the wind to perfection; 12 - 10.
From the restart we gathered the ball in the ruck, and Cantabs threatened to power their way towards the line. But Hayward had other ideas, suddenly switching the play from 15m out under the posts with a long pass out to David Bloxsum on the left wing. Bloxy had five metres of space and one man to beat. He needed no encouragement, took his man on the outside and scored in the corner. Nick had yet another impossible task, but we were ahead at 12 - 15.
Norwich battled away, Cantabs defence stood firm. Again we ran the ball at them, showing superb handling to retain possession. Tom came back on for the last minute or so, and despite spending the last few plays in our own half we were able to run the clock down with a couple of tidy scrums. Tim finally kicked to touch and an historic away win was in the bag.
Cantabs, were undoubtedly the better side. To have lost would have been a travesty; our second half performance was 15 man rugby at its best. That makes it three wins on the trot, two away included, and with our last game of 2015 against sixth placed Rochford Hundred next week, Cantabs have a chance of moving into the top half of the table. Come and join me at Sedley Taylor Road to see if the lads can continue their winning run.