Cantabs travelled down the M11 to Woodford for this London 2NE encounter. Nobody could recall a previous game against the host club, who had enjoyed a better start to the season than Cantabs. However, with our traditional front row restored for the first time this campaign, we travelled in hope. Patrick Carson started on the wing and Dean James replaced the injured Jamie Williams at No 8, with newcomer James Balfe at open-side.
It was a great day for a game of rugby and on a well-grassed pitch, Woodford kicked off. Dan Searle caught well, Cantabs recycled to James Hayward and his kick to the corner pushed the hosts back into their own 22. The first scrum went to Cantabs and Tom Bailey, against the head, and Cantabs were looking threatening. Cantabs were doing all the attacking and were throwing the ball about to very good effect. The scrums were going our way and the first opportunity soon came with a penalty awarded just on the opposition 22. James scuffed his kick, but it was all Cantabs pressure at this stage. The next attack also ended in a Cantabs penalty. This time we went for the corner, their No 8 took a ten minute break for an infringement at the ruck and Woodford were pinned back for a 5m lineout. The short lineout to Isaia saw him go close, Perksy battered away, but we were penalised for crossing and Woodford celebrated loudly.
So the game continued in this vein, with Cantabs attacking and Woodford defending stoutly. It took fifteen minutes for the Essex men to move into our half, but when they did, we were penalised for offside 30m out. Their No 10 hit the ball sweetly and it was 3 - 0, totally against the run of play. This seemed to gel Woodford into action, as in their very next attack the ball was passed out to the left where their inside centre jinked passed two defenders to score at the posts. 10 - 0 and Cantabs heads were down half way through the first half.
Cantabs mounted the next attack through a typical Hayward break through the middle and it was our Italian prop Isaia on his shoulder to take the ball close to the 22. Woodford were penalised for not rolling away, Hayward received extended treatment to his shoulder, so Perksy opted for the scrum. Cantabs front row did its job, we drew another penalty and this time moved into the right hand corner. Woodford stole the lineout and moved clear, and it was another opportunity gone. Woodford moved play up to our 22, Cantabs were penalised, but Woodford failed to take advantage, pushing the penalty kick wide of the posts. Woodford were now on the ascendancy and pushed Cantabs back onto their own line following two penalties into the left hand corner. The first 5m lineout was repelled, but there was no stopping their maul at the second attempt, the long throw was caught and their pack mauled the ball over for the try. 17 - 0 to Woodford on 32 minutes. Laurence came on for James to bolster up the lineout.
Again Woodford were penalised at the ruck, Hayward hit the corner, we failed to capitalise as Shed went close, but managed to recycle the ball out to the 22, where Drew attempted to chip to the left hand corner. The ball skewed off sideways, and somehow Carson caught the ball behind his back, found a metre of space, right on the touchline, out-paced two tacklers and ran round to score to the right of the posts; 17 - 5 with 36 minutes gone. We were still pressing as the half time whistle went.
No immediate changes as Cantabs kicked off, but Glen Remnant's chat at the break must have done the job, because we started the half just as we had done in the first. Woodford did not take the restart kick cleanly and Shed was on his man to win the ball, Bailey took over with a strong drive down the left, but we could not take advantage. Woodford then pushed Cantabs back with a penalty kick to the left hand corner. Their lineout was faultless, their mauling was going well and Cantabs were defending again. A second penalty, another catch and drive but we were able to hold them up over the line. Vitally, we took the ball with a great defensive scrum.
Charlie came on for Isaia at prop but still Cantabs dominated at the scrum and although Woodford threatened Cantabs were never really under threat again, having finally mastered their mauling. The home side were now under pressure, Shed was starting to show more in the drives, our centres were tackling well and allowing Woodford no space. Suddenly Hayward burst through on the right from our own 22, gliding past defenders as he broke clear. His run took him up to the opposition 22, his hooked pass over the winger's head to a supporting Paddy Carson was timed to perfection. Paddy scored unopposed, under the posts, Nick Denham converted and we were on the way at 17 - 12.
Immediately afterwards it was Bloxsum's turn, Charlie Searle set things up with some good footwork close to the left hand touchline. Bloxy took advantage as some neat inter-passing allowed him the space and he sped off down the left, Dean James was out wide, the defender took the dummy and Bloxy cut in to go over for another glorious try close to the posts. Nick's kick was on the money and Cantabs were ahead at 17 - 19 half way through the second half. Jonnie Heaver and Dan Searle took a break, Isaia and James Balfe were restored to the pack, and Cantabs were now right on top.
Woodford were stunned, we continued to attack at every opportunity with Richard Knight and James Hayward moving the ball wide time and time again. Then, Richard Knight gained reward for his good work, taking it ion himself to streak through under the posts to seal the match and gain the bonus try; Nick making the conversion to finish the scoring at 17 - 26. Woodford pressed, we defended furiously for the last ten minutes. Drew was finally battered into submission after two bouts of treatment and Ollie Townsend took over for the last throes of the game. Woodford just could not break through and the last move of the game saw their flyhalf trying to drop-kick the ball to scramble a losing bonus point; but it was not to be.
A win away from home is always a bonus, and this five point win saw Cantabs leapfrog Woodford to move upwards in the league. We have an away match in the Cup next week with another journey down the M11 to Upper Clapton. It will be interesting to see just how much we have improved since losing to them at the start of the season.