Final match of the season for Cantabs, was the return fixture against Romford & Gidea Park. We had lost the very first game of the season after an horrendous trip down the M11, and needed to make amends. Romford had won well of late and had recently taken the Essex Intermediate Cup so a hard encounter was expected. Cantabs had Sami back at inside centre, but it was all change on the wings. With match-winner David Bloxsum not available and Francois Eve being injured in warm up; youngster Robbie Murdoch was on the left and Xaver Touschek the right.
It was a typical April day, a chilly wind when the clouds came over and a warming sun when they blew away. Probably our largest crowd of the season, the majority hoping for a win to move us up to fourth slot in London 2NE.
Romford kicked off, but Cantabs started brightly with some lovely support play taking the home side into the Romford 22. James Hayward, fresh off the plane from the US, kicked for the corner from the first penalty, Stuart Williams caught well and the rolling maul took us close, but Romford's aggression at the resultant ruck won the day. Five minutes gone and the visitors lost No 22 to a knee injury. Sami showed his strength with two fierce runs, but Romford held firm.
Cantabs forced the play into the right hand corner with another good penalty kick from James. We won the throw and this time Toby put James away. He was halted five metres out, the ball was recycled to Toby, who dummied to pass and had just enough strength to score to the right of the posts. James converted; 7 - 0 to Cantabs.
Romford were not in arrears for long. A penalty kick to the right hand corner, the catch and drive followed. Cantabs stood off the maul for too long as the impetus took the maul within five metres. Then their bulky forward shot clear to score under the posts; 7 - 7 after 12 minutes and another ball lost to Rail Track.
Our restart kick went straight into touch, Romford took their scrum under severe pressure but managed to work the ball out and shifted the play wide to the left. Two missed tackles later and some neat handling saw them score their second try. This was again converted, and having made all the early running, Cantabs were now 7 - 14 in arrears. We knew we were in for a game!
Cantabs power at the scrum set up the next attack, Keegan took a knock but continued after treatment. We won the penalty 30 metres out, bang in front. James missed, probably his one mistake of the match as it turned out. Romford were now looking the stronger.
Another powerful run from Sami, set Cantabs up again and James kick to the corner, could only be shepherded into touch by the Romford full-back. The Cantabs lineout and maul pushed Romford back into their 22. Perksy broke away to go close at the corner, but was tackled into touch. Tom took the ball against the head with a great strike. Romford cleared, but Cantabs were soon back in the same corner, again Sami went close, Romford were penalised and James elected for the corner from within the 22. We threw crooked, but won yet again against the head. A series of scrums followed, Cantabs battered the line but failed to ground and won a 5m scrum. We went for the shove, their open side was penalised for breaking too soon, receiving a yellow for his pains, and Cantabs went for a yet another scrum. This time their defender and Toby touched down, the referee raised his arm and both sides retired thinking a try had been awarded. James was walking back for the conversion, when Sir must have told him it was actually a penalty. At that point he was about 15 metres out, with Romford assembled behind the goal. James tapped the penalty and sprinted over the line for the try! His conversion was good, 14 - 14 and Romford team and supporters were feeling somewhat peeved. No further score to half time.
The second half started just as the first had finished. James hit the left hand corner with a penalty, Stuart won the lineout, mauled the ball forward. Toby ripped the ball out as the maul stalled, and went for the line, Isaia was the next to have a go, and we drew another penalty. Perksy went for the scrum right under the posts, Toby passed to his right and James went over unopposed. His kick was a formality; 21 - 14, Cantabs back in the lead.
Cantabs were now tackling well with Finn in particular hitting tackle after tackle at speed. Supported by fellow back-rowers Keegan and Stuart, Cantabs were giving Romford no chance to settle into their game.
Mick made the first change with Jonnie Heaver replaced by Stef; Cantabs now with options in the lineout. Romford were the next to go close. Their catch and drive in the right hand corner, seemed to stall, but the ball was recycled down the right wing. The winger seemed to have stretched out to touch down, but Sir adjudged he knocked on; a real let-off for Cantabs. The scrum did its job, the ball was cleared to the relief of the Cantabs supporters. Charlie came on for Thom with 20 minutes to go, and Joe Allison was on for Xaver.
Romford, continued to press, wheeled our scrum and again they went close with their lanky 2nd row. He was held up a metre short, our scrum moved the ball all the way up to the edge of our 22, drawing the penalty as the Romford pack broke away. Finn and Stuart combined to halt the next Romford attack, with the visitors penalised for not releasing.
Then James provided a little piece of magic. He took the ball just inside our half, chipped over the defence, hacked on beautifully as the ball landed and out-paced the cover defence to score close to the posts for his third try. Probably with a view to saving our Treasurer another lost ball, he contrived to scuff the kick; but Cantabs were clear at 26 - 14. Cue great celebration on the touchline; the bonus point secured.
Romford were not quite done, again they wheeled our scrum inside the Cantabs 22, took the second scrum and moved the ball to the blindside to put their winger into the corner; 26 - 19.
Shortly after this, it was fitting that Toby kicked the ball onto the Long Road banking to finish the game and sadly his time at Cantabs; he leaves next week for Oz and girlfriend Tegan. Tim Charlton, Stuart Williams, and Keegan Evans have also probably played their last games for Cantabs, so some big holes to fill next season.
The man of the match has to be James Hayward, who was in North Carolina at 1.00am but still managed his hat-trick and 21 points despite the jet-lag! This win guaranteed Cantabs a final placing of fourth and every club in the league beaten at least once with the exception of champions Saffron Walden.
The lads from Old Suttonians helped us finish off all the barrels in the cellar to round off the season nicely. Just one match left for this campaign when on May 28th Captain Jon Perks XV goes up against the President's XV to celebrate our 70th season. Some famous names from the past will be putting on Cantabs shirts again,
On a sadder note; Mike Kennedy passed away earlier in the week. Our condolences go to Sue and all his family. Mike captained the 1st XV for two spells, but he will probably be best remembered for his captaincy of our 3rd XV for six seasons into the 80s; without doubt the best 3rd XV the Club has managed to field in any of the last 70 years. He will be missed by many.