Cantabs were without captain Perks, who reported ill on the morning of the match and Isaia Barbieri was back in Italy, so it was all change in the front row. Dean James suffered concussion in the last game, so Ollie Lewis took over at openside. Nick Denham was also unavailable, and Alex Faed took over at fullback. So all change as usual for the last game of the season against Old Cooperians who had beaten us at Sedley Taylor Road in the first league match of the season. Cantabs needed a single bonus point to retain third in the division.
We kicked off down the slope and with the breeze behind us on a well grassed pitch. It was a perfect spring day for shirt sleeves, ideal for running rugby. The Cantabs supporters hoped their team had a plan to stop the Coopers flying left winger.
It didn't take long for us to find that our plan was still not in place, Coopers worked the ball back into our half, kicked for the corner and won the lineout. Their maul started rolling, but Cantabs were able to halt the progress, the ball was switched wide and their left winger scored at the posts; 7 - 0 after three minutes.
Coopers continued to press, and a missed hack at the ball on the edge of our 22, allowed the Essex men to steamroll their way up to our line. They knocked on and from under our own posts our scrum did its job. Cantabs were still getting organised when the Coopers left winger was away again, but a knock-on prevented another score. Again we had to defend our scrum under the posts, and succeeded without trouble. Alex Faed broke clear from fullback and linked with Bloxsum on the left, as Cantabs started to show that they two were prepared to run the ball. James Hayward kicked beautifully into the right hand corner from a penalty, and Coopers were penalised yet again at the lineout. Tom Bailey took a quick tap from 5m out. Their defender tackled him but had not retreated to his try line. Penalty try to Cantabs, but no yellow card surprisingly; 7 - 7.
Next score went to the home side. We failed to gather another kick through the middle, and when our full back fell on the bouncing ball, they were up too quick, he was done for holding on under the posts, and Coopers took the lead again at 10 - 7.
Coopers continued to do most of the attacking and Francois Eve had to dive onto the ball in goal to prevent another score. Paul Pudney made the next decisive break through the middle. At half way our support was up quick enough to win the ruck, Richard Knight recycled to James and our flyhalf made the break, passed out to Francois who scored in the corner to put Cantabs ahead for the first time at 10 - 12. Coopers tall full back was halted by Drew Tilley but our centre took an age to get back to his feet and sadly had to hobble off. Euan Willder took over at center.
From the next scrum, Jamie Williams picked up well and went on a run, Hayward linked with him and tried one of his trade-mark dinks over the defence. The ball was just about cleared to touch by their fullback, but Cantabs had the lineout just ten metres out on the right. Our throw went crooked, but Coopers made a complete hash of clearing at the back of their scrum, knocking on, Paul tried to pick up the spilt ball but also knocked on with the line at his mercy. From the resulting scrum close to the posts, our pack did its job. Richard to James, long pass to the left and Bloxy scored at ease for try number three; 10 - 17 with five minutes left in the half.
James kicked high, they returned the kick which was caught by Ben Tozer. Ben set up the backs to the left, and Bloxy was away again but called back for a forward pass, with the line at his mercy. From the scrum inside their 22, Coopers retained possession and moved the ball to their hard running full back. He ran the ball out of his 22, diagonally over to the left, outpaced everyone and scored in the left hand corner. We had done enough to keep him out wide but that was all. The conversion kick failed, but we had charged too soon. The kick was retaken and Coopers levelled the game at 17 - 17.
James' restart kick was deep this time, they knocked on and our scrum from 15m out did its job. We switched the ball wide left again, Bloxy scored, but again the referee called us back for a forward pass. Every time we had the ball in hand we were looking likely to score, perhaps just too eager with that final pass. No further score as the half time whistle went.
Glen made no further changes at half time, but with Coopers now having the breeze and the slope in their favour, Cantabs would have to be alert to their fast-running backs. But it was Cantabs who had the first chances to score. First, Bloxy got within five metres of their line, but was tackled well to stop him scoring as he knocked on in the tackle. Then Francois kicked ahead over the defence on the right. Our forwards were up but were penalised for killing the ball at the ruck. Their penalty to touch did not find touch and was caught by Alex Faed. He ran at the defence, set up Bloxy again, this time on the right, but he was tackled into touch five metres out. From the long lineout Coopers moved the ball to their full back, he ran the ball out of defence, and the ball was shifted out wide, where the left winger was not going to be caught. All Bloxy could do was to keep him out wide to make the kick difficult, but Coopers were back in the lead at 22 - 17.
Cantabs pressed again from the restart, Tom Bailey got the ball on the left, linking with Charlie Searle as the front row showed how it should be done. Tom put his head down and went for the right hand corner. A great tackle took him out a metre short of the flag.
Jamie Williams stole their lineout with a great catch, passed down to our hooker and this time from 5m there was no stopping Tom, taking ball and tackler over to score in the corner. James had got his kicking boots on for this one and Cantabs were ahead at 22 - 24.
More importantly, it was our fourth try and that illusive bonus point was in the bag.
Coopers had a chance from 28m out to snatch back the lead, but the penalty went wide. From the drop out and in the very next attack, our maul was pulled down. James kicked to the corner, we won the lineout, shifted the ball over to the left where Bloxy scored again at ease. This time James could not add the extra but we were ahead at 22 - 29. Then disaster followed disaster for Coopers, Cantabs moved forward again on the left, Pudney kicked ahead, they fumbled the bouncing ball, tried to pass to their full back, he fumbled again, tried to flick the ball to his colleague, who spilled it again, and there was Jamie Williams finally clinging onto the ball to score at the post. No problem for James; 22 - 36. Surely Cantabs had done enough? The Coopers crowd were very quiet, Glen brought on Dan Searle for Ollie Lewis.
Cantabs then switched off perhaps, Coopers attacked down the right, forcing Alex to hack the ball into touch at the corner. They secured the lineout and threw short to their hooker who went close but was held up at the line, Coopers got the ball back and this time made no mistake scoring in the corner; 27 - 36.
Tom Bailey was replaced by Ryan Colclough, and the crowd had reawakened to get behind their side. Coopers made ground on the left, won the lineout and scored again with the prop in the corner to huge cheers. Score was now 32 - 36. Our restart kick was short, they won their scrum and came back at us again. We were penalised for offside inside our 22, they took a tap and went for the line, their second row was in support to score at the posts; Coopers ahead at 39 - 36. We did win the ball from the next restart, but spilt the ball into touch at their 22. Their lineout secured possession they moved the ball forward, won the next maul over on the left, got the ball to that dreaded left winger, and that was that. He scored with a flourish in the corner, the crowd went wild and the game was over at 44 - 36.
So Coopers managed to double us, as that had done four seasons previously. Naturally the lads were a little deflated, but the bonus point and Romford failing to win at home against Woodford, made the defeat somewhat more palatable. We finish the season in 3rd place, one better than last, and with a higher points tally.
Played 22, Won 12, Drawn 2, Lost 8, Points for 602, Points Against 443.
We say farewell to David Bloxsum who is moving to London, and Bloxy will be missed as leading try scorer of course, but otherwise the rest of the squad is hopefully back again to go for promotion next season. Don't miss it!