With work commitments taking James Hayward, Nick Denham, and Tim Charlton out of the equation, coach Mick Jones chose Ollie Townsend at fullback and Robbie Murdock at flyhalf. Harri Beasley and Alex Stafford were also in the starting lineout and with Toby Carver and Finn Morrison also lining up in the backs it was probably the youngest back line that Cantabs had fielded for many a year. The pack had that usual look about it, with a front five that had not been bettered all season. Good to see Ben James back on the bench after a long lay off. South Woodham Ferrers had beaten us 29 to 15 at their place, so Cantabs were out for revenge.
The pitch was greasy, the day overcast and the wind was getting up as Cantabs kicked off into the breeze towards the railway. Woodham were adjudged to have collapsed the first scrum so Robbie kicked for the corner but Woodham cleared the danger. The first sorties into the opposition half yielded very little of note, as the new look back line struggled to impose any real threats. But it took Woodham nearly ten minutes to mount a serious attack into the Cantabs half. The lineout in our 22 was repelled, the ball broke clear, and Alex Stafford charged down a kick. The ball broke favourably and Alex hacked on towards the try line. He gave chase down the left wing but the Woodham fullback won the race to touch down in goal.
This episode seemed to signal more purpose from Cantabs, Robbie was starting to make probing runs and a promising attack was only halted by an injury to one of the visitors. The game restarted with a scrum, Toby set up the backs and twice Finn Morrison ran straight at the opposition defence to make the hard yards at Centre. From the ruck, Stuart Williams picked up just inside the 22 and took on the defence. He appeared to have been caught by two tacklers, dragged them with him and then went down, but a despairing lunge for the line found the whitewash for a great opening try. Robbie's kick faded past the post but after fifteen minutes Cantabs were off and running at 5 - 0.
Robbie's penalty kick to the left found touch, Stuart won the lineout and our big men went for the line. Isaia and Shed went close, Perksy had a go as well, but SWF were good enough to withstand the onslaught and kicked clear. Not for the first time, Dave Bloxsum caught the long clearing kick and set off on his diagonal run towards the right wing. He was finally brought down, we won the penalty fifteen metres out centrally and Perksy went for the scrum. SWF were being shoved back, pulled down the scrum and rightly Perksy elected for another; this time just five metres out right under the posts. The pack did its job, the melee of bodies piled up on the try line as we trundled forward. Stuart at No 8 tried to touch down, but was denied. Sir said it was illegally so and Cantabs were awarded the penalty try and a visiting forward was given yellow to add insult to injury. Robbie's kick sailed through the posts onto the railway to make the score 12 - 0 after 25 minutes.
Then it all went wrong. Five minutes later, Woodham's penalty kick found touch in the right hand corner, they caught their lineout and formed a maul. This progressed crab-like forwards and sideways towards the Cantabs line and we could not prevent the try; 12 - 7 after an easy conversion.
Woodham came straight back at us, when we failed to clear. Another kick into the same corner resulted in another maul and another try to their hooker; again the conversion was good and suddenly Cantabs were behind at 12 - 14. Mick was not amused, we were being penalised at the breakdown for not rolling away, or going off our feet and had been punished twice.
Cantabs restarted and attacked with purpose. The pack won the ball against the head from a scrum deep inside the Woodham half. Toby found his flyhalf, who gaining confidence as the game progressed set off for the line. He dummied to pass inside, passed outside and there was no stopping Alex who dived over for the score to the right of the posts. The conversion from Robbie was good and high; 19 - 14. Yet another ball lost on the rail line, and our Treasurer estimated the cost at eighty pounds so far, but we were back in the lead at half time.
Mick brought all three subs on at half time; Stef Pritchard in 2nd row for Charlie, Francois on the right wing for Harri and Ben James at back row for Pete Collins. Cantabs made the first real attack with a grubber kick to the corner from Alex. Perksy went the closest as Cantabs battered the line, but was held up. A series of penalties conceded by Cantabs then allowed Woodham to progress into the Cantabs half and finally resulted in a penalty attempt at goal which was well struck to bring the scores closer at 19 - 17.
Cantabs then suffered another set-back when Alex did not roll away at the ruck and Sir had seen enough, giving him an enforced ten minute break. The penalty was 35m out against a stiffening wind and was not close. However this seemed to give Cantabs the impetus to start attacking and it turned out to be the last serious attempt from the visitors to add to their score. Woodham shortly lost another man to the dreaded yellow card evening the sides up. Cantabs then pinned the opposition back in their own 22. Woodham finally got hold of the ball and tried to run in out but spilled the ball under pressure and Cantabs were back on the attack. Next score came from a SWF lineout which Stef took, the play was stretched to the right, Francois held on and moved play up to towards the line, then play shifted back to the left, Robbie made a great step inside the tackle, shifted the ball to his left and there was Stu Williams collecting his second try of the match, at ease under the posts. With the conversion the score moved to a more respectable 26 - 17. Charlie was now on at hooker in place of Tom.
Cantabs were soon camped back on the opposition try line, and Finn Morrison was held up in the left hand corner. Scrum 5 to Cantabs; the pack did their job, but somehow we managed to mess up as we moved over the try line. A series of lineouts only ten metres out gave Cantabs yet more chances to score and time after time Woodham repelled the attacks and kicked frantically to touch. Finally, Stu won the next lineout and with Toby spreading the play wide to the right, Alex suddenly switched play straight back to the left wing with a deft kick which was caught beautifully by David Bloxsum, who scored without hindrance wide on the left. That was it for the scoring and the game. Final score 31 - 17. Over the season the scores between the two sides were absolutely level, with one win each. There are certainly no easy games in this league.
Perksy awarded man of the match to young Robbie. Stu Williams again had a great game and could so easily have taken the honours, but I guess he was happy with his brace of tries. After a nervy start, Ollie Townsend did nothing wrong at fullback, and will definitely add more options for Mick going forward. Kegan was his usual belligerent and forceful self at flanker and worked well with Peter, Stu and Ben to give us a lot of ball at the breakdown.
Next game is on March 5th against Campion, when we also have a pre-match luncheon for you. Get your seats booked for another great afternoon at Sedley Taylor Road.