For this visit to Basildon, our first in 28 years, Cantabs were without skipper Jon Perks, who had to work, and club stalwart Charlie Searle was appointed captain for the day. Darren Carew was drafted into the front row for his 1st XV debut. 2nd row pairing of Stef Pritchard and Dave Evershed were both restored to the engine room of the scrum, while on the wings we had Harri Beasley and Francois Eve. Sam Howes and John Regan were on the bench; so a multitude of changes showing just how much strength Mick Jones has available to him when required. A further twelve players picked for the 2nd XV in the game against March had also started for the first team in the last year.
Basildon kicked off but Cantabs were soon taking advantage of the following wind to put Basildon under pressure. A scrum inside the opposition 22 allowed our pack to recycle the ball and the resultant maul saw the Basildon defence sliding backwards. The consensus was that Stef Pritchard was holding onto the ball to claim the try, although after the game half the pack tried to claim the honours. James Hayward made the conversion and Cantabs were up and running at 0 - 7.
After a sustained period of pressure in the Basildon 22, Cantabs then had to defend as their opponents forwards made good ground. The ball ran loose on our right wing, Francois hacked it forward and James Hayward was quickest to the skidding ball, hacking on again to such good effect that he was able to score in the corner. James had no luck with the kick out of the mud, but we were 0 - 12 after twenty minutes. The pitch was already cutting up badly and the two packs were difficult to tell apart at times.
Basildon showed how strong they were up front and seemed to be first to the ground when the ball ran loose. In his efforts to halt their progress Charlie Searle had to take a break from the action with a bloodied nose, but Sam Howes only got three minutes of action as John the physio soon had our captain back in action. Immediately afterwards, Alex Stafford who had sustained a knee injury after a big hit from their outside centre, and had struggled on for a while after two bouts of treatment, was forced to retire from the game. John Regan took over at inside centre after just 25 minutes play.
Basildon continued to press winning a lineout on 5m and going desperately close with the follow-up maul. We were lucky that Sir reversed a penalty on our line and Hayward kicked to touch. Basildon pressed hard but good play from our backs terminated in a cross kick to the corner by our flyhalf that a flying Harri Beasley nearly managed to hold onto. We were penalised for an early shove, Basildon kicked clear but did not find touch. Our backs moved the ball right and then switched the ball left, creating an overlap on the left. This time Harri made no mistake leaving his defender floundering with his step, rounded the whole defence and touched down under the posts; 0 - 19. No further score in the half. Keegan, who had been creating havoc at the breakdown had suffered a knock to his neck and he took a well-earned break allowing Pete Collins his chance.
Cantabs kicked off low and long against the wind, but Basildon caught the ball and ran straight back at us. Were it not for stout defence and strong tackling, the Basildon forwards would have made better progress. Throughout the match our defensive line held extremely well and to a man we tackled like demons. James Hayward started the next Cantabs attack, having caught a high ball inside his 22, he darted forward, beating three defenders, then kicked diagonally up to the Basildon 22. We won their lineout this time and shifted the ball to the backs where Xaver Touschek skated past four men before setting up Harri on the left. He was tackled just short, but was able to recycle the ball. When James got it back he kicked wide to the right wing, Francois caught the kick and appeared to score in the corner. However the touch judge ruled that he had hit the corner flag as he grounded the ball, and Basildon were off the hook.
We won the ball back in the same corner and Shed was held up just a metre short. Sam Howes replaced Darren at prop after ten minutes of the half and Basildon pressed hard again. Then suddenly, Tim had intercepted a pass deep inside his 22 and outpacing the entire Basildon team ran the length of the field to score to the right, with the referee the closest one to catching him! James' kick was wide of the mark, but Cantabs were 0 - 24 to the good.
Another little dink through the middle from James, saw Xaver nearly gather inside the Basildon 22, but they knocked on and we were able to sustain the pressure. Francois was again close to scoring, held up under the posts a metre short, Xaver then claimed he had scored, grounding over the line only to have his "try" disallowed. Cantabs continued to press, and gained a scrum right under the posts following a knock-on. Joe Allison controlled the ball at the base, but the scrum was halted a metre out, we shifted the ball to Toby, who found Tim bursting through from fullback to score at ease, his second of the match. James converted and we were away at 0 - 31.
Darren replaced Shed for the last 15 minutes, so as not to exacerbate the big man's shoulder injury - we will need him next week.
Basildon, to their credit, did not give up and concerted pressure down the right finally led to a consolation try for their pack in the right hand corner; 5 - 31. Then in the very next attack following the restart three penalties and a final quick tap five metres out, and their big man was over again. This time virtually under the posts, so the kick was a formality. It proved to be the last play of the game; 12 - 31 the final score.
Mick was disappointed that we allowed the opposition back into the game at the death, but delighted to take a bonus point win which makes it six wins and six losses for the campaign and moved us ahead of Norwich up to sixth place in the table.
Despite all the changes, in atrocious conditions our backs were the difference. Basildon's pack gave us as tough a time as any team we have played this season. For his two tries and his faultless performance at full-back I give Tim Charlton man of the match this week. Toby put in a great performance, showing good handling in difficult conditions at scrum half, and James' class provided the difference in the two sides at flyhalf. Darren had a very solid debut at prop and will doubles be earmarked for Perksy's role next season.
Next week we are home to Holt to try and avenge the defeat at their place. Come and support the lads, I will have the fire ready for you.