Cantabs made the journey to 2nd place Sudbury for this league encounter having had a break from action for three weeks. Sudbury were hoping for a better performance this time having been beaten 36 - 0 at Sedley Taylor Road. Without a recognised flyhalf, Toby Carver was drafted in and Dean James got his first start of the season at scrum half. It was also a welcome back to Fijian Sami Kididromo at inside centre to partner Alex Stafford in an attempt to stifle the mobile backs of the Sudbury team. Utility forwards Jonny Heaver and Ben James were joined by Francois Eve on the bench.
It was near perfect conditions for rugby on a well-grassed pitch as Sudbury kicked off downwind and down the slope in front of a large partisan crowd. However, Cantabs were the first to press and won a penalty for offside on the Sudbury 10m line. Toby's kick to the corner gave way to a shortened lineout which Isaia caught and made good ground to set up the play. Dean shifted the play back inside allowing Keegan Evans to burst through the defence at speed. But he had the ball stripped as he crossed the line and Sudbury touched down in goal for a 5m scrum. Sudbury were penalised three times for offences at the scrum, and on the fifth 5m scrum Sudbury finally managed to grab possession. The ball broke for their left winger who used his speed to run the length of the pitch to score in the left hand corner. The try went unconverted but Sudbury were ahead at 5 - 0 with five minutes gone, completely against the run of play and luck not to have suffered a yellow card or indeed a penalty try for the persistent infringements at the scrum.
Cantabs' pack pressed again after the restart, but the ball broke clear and it took a good tackle from Sami to halt the Sudbury danger man on the left to stop another try opportunity. We then came under pressure and were caught offside on the edge of our 22. The penalty was struck well and somehow despite all the early territorial advantage we were 8 - 0 down after just ten minutes.
Toby Carver then made a clean break from his own 10m line up to the Sudbury 22, with Sami in support. This time we won the penalty and Toby's kick was just good enough to make the score 8 - 3.
Yet another penalty kick into the right hand corner gave Cantabs another chance to bring the pack into play, but Sudbury were alert to the danger and cleared. It was the home side backs that again looked dangerous. The move started with a kick on the breeze to the Cantabs corner. The lineout was won well and the Sudbury flyhalf moved the play across to the right at speed, where the right winger tried to make his corner. The linesman flagged for a foot in touch, at the same moment we tackled him over the line and the try was averted. However, ignoring the flag, the referee adjudged the tackle dangerous, awarded a penalty try and with just five minutes to half time we were 15 - 3 down.
Charlie Searle was replaced by Ben James at the break and from the outset Cantabs began to dominate the game. I cannot recall a worthwhile Sudbury attack in the second half, it was now all Cantabs. Alex Stafford's kicking game started to push the home side back time and time again using the wind to good effect. Cantabs rolling maul was now paying dividends, and it took some desperate passes across the Sudbury line for the home side to break away to the right. Perksy brought down the outside centre with a badly executed tackle and got ten minutes for his sins. Mick alerted Jonnie to be ready for the first scrum, but the next bad break for Cantabs followed soon after when Dean had to leave the field with a damaged knee. Wholesale changes were made; Toby moving to scrum half and Alex to fly half. Nick Denham moved to outside centre and Francois entered the fray on the right wing.
Tim Charlton created the next attack with an interception from his own 22, setting Francois away on the right. Sudbury swallowed him up but two successive kicks from Alex gave us a great position deep inside the Sudbury 22 on the right. The second from a penalty gave us a lineout just 8m out; Stuart Williams caught the ball, the maul formed, trundled forwards and Ben James made the try. Nick Denham made the conversion from the right of the posts and Cantabs were right back in it at 15 - 10. The Sudbury coach was going apoplectic on the line fearing the worst and urging his back line to kick everything away as wave after wave of blue and white jerseys surged forward.
Jonnie Heaver replaced Isaia at loose head, and our scrum domination continued unabated. We won a penalty for offside inside the Sudbury 22, and with ten minutes left and Perksy back on, he decided to take the points rather than go for the jugular; 15 - 13 with Nick kicking. Now Shed was in his element, winning the hard won yards. David Bloxsum was now starting to worry the Sudbury defence with his runs inside from the left and our centres had cut out the young Sudbury backs completely. The Sudbury crowd were silenced, fearing the worst as we were now dominant.
With five minutes left in our estimation, Cantabs were awarded a penalty deep inside the Sudbury 22, Perksy elected for the scrum. We took the ball over the line with a big shove, but Sudbury spoiled the attempt to score when their No 8 broke away and was yellow carded. The mist descended, we elected for another scrum, rather than take the penalty kick. Again the scrum did its job, but their No 9 prevented a score on the line. The referee said scrum to Cantabs, then immediately called time. No extra time was played despite numerous injuries and in the opinion of all present - we were robbed of victory. No last play instruction was made and yet again we had come close but one losing bonus point was the net result for Cantabs. Final score 15 - 13.
Great second half from Cantabs, Sudbury took the points and with Diss losing, go clear in 2nd and will probably go into the playoffs for London 1. Cantabs are now up to fifth in the division and can consolidate that with a victory against Norwich, who are sixth, when we meet at Sedley Taylor Road after the Easter break. There is a pre-match lunch for this one, so book your places to see your team against their old rivals on 2nd April.