Cantabs made the trip across to Henham for the first league encounter in many a year. After twelve straight league victories the hosts were clear at the top of Division 2NE and probably just required a couple of more victories to ensure promotion.
Only Stef Pritchard was missing for Cantabs, with Charlie Searle shifting to 2nd row and a first outing for Rich Ford who was on the bench as back-up. Walden were reportedly at full strength and it was going to be a case of the power of our forwards against the speedy running backs of the Essex team.
Cantabs kicked off up the slope and against the wind; the pitch was greasy and would probably cut up but all in all a good surface. The crowd was surprisingly small for a team at the top of their game and it was Walden who were first to mount an attack but Cantabs were able to counter this and counter attacked through a good kick up to the Walden 22 from James Hayward. We took the lineout with a great catch from Stuart Williams, and mauled the ball into the danger area. First Isaia Barbieri and then Dave (Shed) Evershed, assaulted the line. Then with Walden defence all sucked in expecting another big man to charge the line, Toby Carver switched the ball wide and the backs found the overlap on the left. That was all the space that David Bloxsum required; in at the corner to make it 0 - 5 after just four minutes. Hayward's kick hit the far post but stayed out.
Cantabs came straight back at Walden from the restart, with a penalty from James finding the corner. Again Stu Williams collected the lineout beautifully the maul formed, but this time Walden had woken to the threat. Cantabs were already looking to have the Walden pack beaten in the scrum and it was a case of desperate defence from the home side preventing further scores. Cantabs were well on top and started to open up. A pass to Tom Bailey was spilled on the Walden 10m line, and before you could count to ten the Walden back row was on the ball and their backs were shipping it to the right. Cantabs were too stretched and when the speedy Walden right winger received the ball on the touchline, there was no stopping him; 5 - 5 and fifteen minutes gone.
Walden spilled the restart into touch and Cantabs elected for the scrum on the Walden 22. Stu caught the ball and Cantabs shipped the ball over to the left. A penalty kick from James, when Walden were caught offside, made the opposite corner. A falling Stu Williams somehow held onto the ball in the lineout. The maul was expected but scrum half Toby had other ideas, shooting around the blindside to score in the corner unopposed; 5 - 10 and at this point Cantabs had the Essex men worried.
Walden were not behind for long. A long kick down the right was followed up, we failed to clear and Walden continued down the right. Again the right winger was too quick for our defence and scored in the corner. Twenty minutes gone and the match was squared up at 10 - 10. Cantabs had territorially been well ahead but two breaks was all Walden required; the writing was on the wall perhaps.
The restart was caught by the Walden No 8 but Francois Eve tied him up to win us the scrum. Not for the first time, Walden were penalised for their front row popping out of the scrum, and Cantabs went for the maul. Walden averted the danger and won a scrum ten metres out. The pressure from our pack allowed Toby to tie up their scrum half and Cantabs got the put-in 6 metres out. This time we could not capitalise and Walden kicked clear and long.
Towards the end of the half now and Walden were finding their legs, with Cantabs defending furiously to keep them out. James just about kicked us clear but Walden were soon back at us down the left. It took a big tackle from Francois on their fullback to halt the danger. The referee had moved play to the other side of the pitch
and completely missed the bout of handbags that followed the tackle. The fracas continued for a minute or so, then some sense was restored and the game restarted with a scrum. From that point perhaps Sir appeared to find reason to penalise Cantabs at scrums, despite the antics of the Walden front row, being assisted by half a dozen referees in green at every scrum. But the half ended without further score.
Rich Ford was on at 2nd Row at half time, Tom moving out of the front row to make way for Charlie. Rich was soon in the action but spilled the ball from a difficult pass and Walden were straight onto the attack. Walden caught us offside on the edge of our 22 and took the kick; 13 - 10 ahead for the first time. The Cantabs spirit and the tackling seemed to be lacking now from Cantabs. The very next Walden attack saw one of their back rows punch a hole straight through the centre of our defence. He must have gone through four tackles to score under the posts; 20 - 10.
Cantabs did mount another assault on Walden. A huge scrum saw Stu Williams dribbling the ball at the base of the scrum while we made 15 metres into their 22, finally drawing the penalty yet again. Perversely Perksy let them off the hook. Instead of going for another scrum, he handed the ball to James. The kick was pulled wide and the chance to get back at Walden was over.
Cantabs continued to dominate the scrum but were now also finding the referees (yes referees)critical of our front row, and could not reap the benefits. From such a penalty inside our 22, Walden took a tap and a gain there big man was not halted going in for their fourth try right between the posts; 27 - 10.
Joe Allison came on for Pete Collins, and Harri Beasley for Francois. Cantabs did mount another serious attack down the left, through Bloxy. He got his pass inside to James in support but with the line beckoning, his pass to Shed was short and not gathered. A certain try squandered, threat over and with that, the game as well.
We did try and run the ball out of our own 22, James kicked wide to the left, Bloxsum failed to make the catch, but their right winger didn't. He ran the ball back from 25m out, and yet again scored in the corner to make the final score 32 - 10.
You had to be there to believe it had happened. That such domination in the first half could lead to such capitulation in the second period was incredible. Perhaps we ran out of steam, certainly we had no answer to their runners in the second half; our tackling that had been so strong against Diss, was woefully poor in the second half. Walden will certainly win the league now and Cantabs with a 50:50 record remain halfway up the league at sixth.
Man of the match for me was Toby at scrum half, his confidence is growing with every match.
Next week South Woodham Ferrers come to Sedley Taylor Road. Let's get back to winning ways with your support.