Woodford were the visitors to Sedley Taylor Road for this London 2 encounter. Last season it was the win against the same opponents that signalled our surge up the division and was the start of an eight game winning run. The half-back pairing of Knight and Hayward started the game and there was the return of Francois Eve and Harri Beasley on the wings; the latter making his first outing for the 1st XV since major knee surgery.
The pitch was in excellent condition and the rain had stayed away as the home side kicked towards the clubhouse. Woodford started the stronger with their pack using their weight advantage to good effect. Then disaster struck Richard Knight and Cantabs when a strong challenge popped his AC joint of our scrum-half forcing him to retire from the game with only ten minutes on the clock. That will probably mean six weeks out; a wicked shame for Richard having worked hard to get back from a finger break pre-season. He joins a long list of injury-hit players: Dean James - cracked elbow, Finn Morrison - broken clavicle, Shane Rea - lower back, Dave Evershed - back, Matt Houlden - knee and Jon Perks - knee/old age.
Toby Stockley moved to No 9 (his preference it should be said) and Danny Richards to No 8 with Ollie Lewis joining the back row.
Against all the run of the play, it was Stockley who broke the deadlock, squeezing through a gap and jinking his way over for the first score. James Hayward added the extra; 7 - 0.
Woodford continued to threaten, but Cantabs scored again when full-back Jonny Regan joined the back line to take the accolades and end off a great team move to land try number two. Again James converted and Cantabs were away at 14 - 0.
Then with the team pushing for a third try, suddenly Woodford stretched Cantabs on the right and their lanky right winger cut inside our full-back to go under the posts; 14 - 7.
Within five minutes, Woodford were level, as a telegraphed pass out of defence was intercepted and the teams were level at 14 - 14. Francois Eve got within inches of scoring when he was adjudged to be in touch as he touched down ion the left hand corner. No further score in the first half.
Cantabs pushed hard from the restart and a high tackle gave us the chance to break the deadlock when we were awarded a penalty 30m out to the left of the posts. Hayward duly obliged with a good strike; 17 - 14.
Then the try of the game: Stockley, who had threatened to break through earlier, ghosted past two tacklers and scored to the left of the posts. Again Hayward converted; 24 - 14.
Woodford then came more into the game and pressed hard on the left. A penalty gave them a lineout deep in our 22, and Cantabs seemed to have cleared the danger with a clearing kick back up to the 22. But Woodford won the lineout cleanly this time and their flyhalf put a kick through towards the posts. This was struck perfectly and their back was clear as the ball bounced up, scoring under the posts; 24 - 21.
Wilson and Tilley were now on; Harri Beasley picking up yet another shoulder injury. Hayward and Stockley were now combining well and Cantabs were starting to turn it on and before long James Hayward showed why he is the best No 10 in the division. He broke clear of a tackle just outside their 22, and outpaced the defence to score in the left hand corner. Then he was fastest to a kick ahead on the right to touch down again. Neither try was converted but his double saw Cantabs home and dry at 34- 21. In between again Francois was within inches as he again was tackled into touch on the left.
Cantabs continued to press, Hayward again going close when he chipped ahead on the right only to get a cruel bounce to deny him his hat-trick. Then our scrum really started to dominate, and a penalty to the left hand corner gave us the chance. Pete Collins caught the drive which was held up, and Woodford were under all sorts of pressure in the next scrum. The scrum wheeled away towards the Woodford goal, and Sir allowed it to continue. Pete Collins picked up and went over to make it try number six: final score 39 - 21.
Toby Stockley was named player of the match. Overall, this was undoubtedly our best team performance of the season and the win pushes us four places up the league. Most gratifying was the dominance of our scrum in the last quarter as Isaia got to grips with tight head and Tom Bailey and Ben Tozer showed there is a still a lot of life for our front row post-Perksy. However, they will now miss our Italian stallion for two weeks with the birth of his first-born imminent. The resources of the Club are being stretched somewhat, no more so than at front row until he returns.