Cantabs travelled to Norwich without a recognised scrum half; so Jonnie Regan was chosen for the task. There was talk of long term injured players returning in the New Year, but with Norwich on a high after running league leaders Rochford Hundred close the previous week, Cantabs would have to be at their best to get something from this one. Mara Tunivanua was making his 1st XV debut on the wing.
Cantabs kicked off on a well grassed pitch, with the breeze at their backs and a bright sun in their eyes, but for the spectators it was a bone-chilling day.The early pressure came from Cantabs with half the team involved in the move, and Norwich were on the back foot. Cantabs however eventually had the ball ripped away and Norwich kicked clear down the left. The Norwich left winger was first to the bouncing ball on halfway hacking the ball forwards three times, and finally got the bounce to clutch it before scoring in the left hand corner; 5 - 0 after five minutes play.
Cantabs continued to ruck well and at the breakdown we were supporting the ball carrier well. Forward progress was slow, Norwich up on our backs very quickly when Ollie Townsend did try to spin the ball wide, but we were keeping the game tight as a result and Norwich were getting frustrated by a lack of possession. Norwich were pinned back in their 22, won the ball back but under pressure from Cantabs passed forward. The resultant Cantabs scrum had the home side under a lot of pressure. Norwich broke too early in an attempt to spoil our ball and were penalised. Tom Bailey opted for another scrum, and with Norwich going backwards again, Jonnie Regan picked up and drove for the line, but the ball was ripped from him and Norwich cleared the danger.
Norwich then showed that when they were allowed to run the ball, they were very dangerous. Twice their backs lost possession with the try line beckoning and the Norwich supporters were getting frustrated. Some good rucking saw Cantabs move up to their 22, clearly we had no recognised kicker to relieve the pressure so were resorting to ball in hand to move slowly forward. Norwich were penalised, the penalty kick gained no ground. Tom threw to the back of the lineout but it was too long, and Norwich needed no other incentive. They moved the ball wide smartly, made the overlap and their centre dummied to score close to the posts. This time the Norwich fullback made no mistake and it was 12 - 0 after 25 minutes.
Cantabs continued to press but progress was slow, and Norwich, continually up on our line so quickly our coaches were constantly calling for offside, but the decisions were not going our way. Time and again Regan and Townsend were unable to get their passes away but were holding on to the ball and making the gaps to set up ruck after ruck. Cantabs were winning the possession percentages but progress towards the try line was slow. Regan and Tilley made good breaks, but the final pass out to Mara on the right was not on the money. Norwich frustration was growing and they were temporarily reduced to fourteen when their 2nd row took an enforced break.
Mara was tackled high when he went for the line. Our lineout from seven metres out saw Cantabs get within a metre of the line before progress was halted. Cantabs regrouped and this time Danny Richards drove forward from the maul. Norwich defence held firm and bundled man and ball into touch. Norwich secured their lineout, mauled the ball all the way to the 22 then kicked clear.
Cantabs scrum was dominant throughout the first half and we took the ball against the head for the first time to halt Norwich when they threatened our line. Norwich however were starting to look dangerous and spilled another easy chance to score on the left. Half time arrived, and we were definitely still in the game.
Cantabs continued to try and keep the game tight, but the mistake came; Norwich seized on the opportunity from an accidental off-side to scramble the ball clear from their scrum, moved the ball wide and scored their third try; 19 - 0.
The fourth was not far behind, a poor pass in defence put us under huge pressure, but Sir adjudged the ball knocked on as their man grounded it. The respite from the pressure was brief, Norwich regained possession on the edge of our 22, and their full-back dummied twice before knifing through our defence to score under the posts; 26 - 0.
Wy Jeffries was on for Harry Wilson, Adam Fastnedge replaced Ollie at flyhalf, Ollie moving to scrum half and Regan to fullback. Mara took a break and Francois was moved to the wing.
Norwich had an overlap on the right, but the man with the ball was chased down by a flying Matt Houlden, who was also on hand to tackle the next man as Norwich tried to capitalise. The chance of a try went as they were harassed into throwing out the final pass forward.
Glen brought Michael Pedder on for Ben Tozer, but by now it was constant Norwich pressure. Norwich scored again and their fullback was deadly accurate with his kicks by now; 33 - 0.
The next try made the score a comfortable 40 - 0, their fly-half showing he could dummy as well, going in under the posts to make it 49 - 0!
Mara rejoined the action at the expense of a weary Drew Tilley, but the next score of the game was for Cantabs. Francois intercepted a wild pass on the Norwich 10m line, and had the pace to outrun the defence to score under the posts; 49 - 7.
Norwich were upset by this, their tight head got yellow carded for not rolling away but Cantabs could not capitalise on this and it was Norwich scored twice more to bring the score to 59 - 7.
Cantabs had one final chance; Matt Houlden broke clear on the right and looked certain to score, but was tackled high. A certain penalty try, we thought, especially with a third Norwich player receiving yellow. But no, just the penalty for Cantabs. Captain Tom Bailey went for the tap ball and was held up. We were penalised, Jonnie Heaver somehow upset Sir and he was carded. Norwich cleared the danger, and that was it.
2017 has not been a good year for the 1st XV, we must look forward to a better New Year and some returning players after injury. The lads never gave up on this one, but Norwich were just too strong in the end. Tom Bailey and Matt Houlden both had good games and were my nomination for joint MOM. This loss means we are now in the bottom two and we will need a win against Chelmsford in the first home fixture of the New Year to move out of the relegation zone.
Our 2nd XV home fixture against Shelford was called off because of a frozen pitch. Two lost home fixtures in consecutive weeks means lost bar revenue; making your Treasurer an unhappy Christmas bunny. In lots of ways the Club is moving forwards, but on the field our youngsters are finding London 2 tough going. The aim must be to try and survive at this level and the early games in the New Year will be vital.
Happy New year to all Cantabrigians.