It was all change at Sedley Road for the start of the new season. Cantabs had been lucky enough to persuade Glen Remnant to move across from Shelford as coach, replacing Mick Jones. But we were missing our entire front row from last season, owing to injuries. So, Dave (Shed) Evershed stepped up to captain the team, until Jon Perks recovers from a pre-season injury. Carlie Searle started at lock alongside Shed. Darren Carew and the evergreen Jonny Heaver stepped into the breach at prop and new recruit Ryan Colcough was drafted in at hooker. Another new boy, Richard Knight was partneingr James Hayward at half-back, with Dean James moving to blindside, to add a bit of aggression to the backline.
In the backs, David Bloxsum was in at fullback and Paul Pudney was promoted to inside centre. Also making his debut, was Jamie Williams, who started on the bench
The visitors were Old Cooperians, who had been promoted as champions of 3NE following an seventeen match unbeaten run. We were aware of their speedy winger from two seasons back, and it was clear he could not be given any space.
The rain had blown over as the game started, but the pitch was well grassed and very damp. Cantabs kicked off towards the railway. Cantabs won the ball back and took the first scrum just outside the 22. Cantabs lost possession however and a long kick from their flyhalf, was fumbled inside our 22, and Coopers were on the ascendancy. Cantabs defence held firm and Ryan did well in the maul to steal the ball. The pattern soon became clear. Whenever their flyhalf got the ball he drilled into the corner to great effect, negating a lot of our hard won ground.
First score went to the visitors when their dangerous winger took the ball in the centre, beat a couple of Cantabs defenders, cut out wide to the right, then back inside, and with two tacklers hanging onto him he still had the power to stretch out over the line. 0- 7 with the easy conversion.
The score was still going up on the scoreboard, when Cantabs won possession as Coopers spilt the ball from the restart. James Hayward, went for glory, jinking one way and then next and dived over to the left of the posts. His conversion was good; 7 - 7 with just 10 minutes gone. Goochy was ruing the loss of another ball to British Rail, but the Cantabs supporters were not too concerned.
Cantabs enjoyed a better spell, but were now losing possession too easily, and our scrum was coming under increasing pressure. Somehow Ben James and Richard Knight were retrieving the situation at the back of the scrum but the passing was a too frenetic, allowing Coopers to win back possession. It took a big hit from Jonny Heaver to prevent another dangerous attack from the opposition.
James Hayward kicked high, their flyhalf returned the favour and this time the two Coopers wingers combined to win possession in our half and interchanged passes to move up to our 22. Cantabs were caught offside, and their kicker made no mistake from bang in front to make it 7 - 10. From the restart their No 10 hoisted a high return kick into our right hand corner, Bloxy and their left winger both went for the ball, and the winger came away with the ball. We were again penalised for offside, same place, same result, 7 - 13.
Whenever we made the Coopers half we seemed to spill the ball and their flyhalf was now calling all the shots. Both our lineouts and scrums were yielding little for Cantabs. Then Jonny Regan was forced over his own try line, fielding another astute kick through, and we had to defend a 5m scrum. Cantabs withstood the assault and moved clear, but kick after kick pushed us back into our own 22. Darren had to leave the scrum with an ankle injury, which moved Charlie into the front row, Jamie Williams taking over at 2nd row. No more scores until half time.
Our scrum seemed to improve and Coopers threat from that set piece was reduced. Jamie Williams also won a couple of lineouts, to give the Cantabs faithful hope. Coopers will still looking the more likely to score. Glen made a couple of changes Xaver on for Francois and Drew Tilley replacing Nick Denham. Finn Morrison was tackling like a demon and Dean James tried to muscle his way back into the game but was stopped in his tracks by their big No 8; a clear case of the irresistible force meeting the immoveable object.
A series of lineouts in our left hand corner, arose as penalties were kicked accurately into touch. Paul Pudney broke clear on the first of these with a scorching run taking him well into the other half from under his own posts. However, Coopers' flyhalf just put us back under pressure. Finn was caught once too often offending at the breakdown and took a ten minute break as we went into the last quarter. From the resulting penalty, Mr Reliable, slotted home the kick; 7 - 16.
Another penalty from halfway fell short of goal, James ran the ball out of his 22, but the pass to Dean was too much of a stretch and his knock-on resulted in a scrum on the edge of our 22. The scrum did the work for the visitors, and their big forward had too much impetus, scoring to the right of the posts. The conversion was successful, and the game was lost at 7 - 23.
Charlie had been injured trying to prevent the try, and hobbled off, bringing Darren back into the fray. Bloxy made a great try-saving tackle to prevent another try from their right winger. But, at the death, Cantabs showed their fitness and started to push Coopers back into their own half. A couple of kicks into the 22 from James, the lineout was won, and Cantabs tried the rolling maul for only the second time in the match. This made 10 metres, Coopers were penalised, and from 15m out Shed took a quick tap and scored to make the line. Final score: 12 - 23.
With both Charlie and Darren taking knocks in this game, Cantabs are really running out of options at front row. It is rumoured that Isaia will be fit for next week; he is certainly needed. Lots of positives to take from the game though. Our back-row fought hard and to good effect, Jamie Williams and Richard Knight look like good recruits for the season, and James Hayward again showed his class. Man of the match for me was Jonny Heaver, who was still going strong at the end despite huge pressure in the front row all afternoon. He was substituted for all of three minutes, but happily rejoined the battle!