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A Houlden double not enough to beat Woodford

Cantabs travelled to Woodford for this vital relegation clash. Charlie Searle was working, so Jonny Heaver took over at tight head and Nathan Davenport was at 2nd row. Jonny Regan started at fullback. The pitch was well grassed on the wings but was sure to cut up in the centre, after another week of rain.

Cantabs kicked off but Woodford were soon pressing and a couple of Hayward's early clearances were charged down as the opposition were up on him very quickly. Finn Morrison was looking very lively, invariably first to the breakdown. Jonny Regan had a couple of surging runs out of defence but Cantabs had a let-off when first the flyhalf side-stepped a tackle, made ground into our half and found a supporting 2nd row who charged into our 22. His pass was spilled and a certain try avoided.

Cantabs scrum was looking solid, our lineout more secure than of late, but Woodford were looking the more likely to score. It took a mighty tackle from Hayward to halt the Woodford loose head, and the big man, having been stopped in full flight, came off the worst. Cantabs were soon under pressure again and Danny Richards was sin-binned for coming in at the side of a ruck to prevent a score in the right hand corner. The five metre lineout which resulted from the penalty was caught by their front jumper, the maul formed and with our forwards not halting the drive Woodford scored in the corner. The conversion was good from out on the touchline and Cantabs were behind at 7 - 0 after 20 minutes.

Morrison was up quickly on the restart kick to tackle the receiver, they were penalised and Hayward kicked to the left hand corner. A speeding Matt Houlden caught the ball inches from the ground and was tackled a couple of metres short of the line. Cantabs secured possession, locked in the defence with a couple of forward drives for the line, before Jim Bryant moved the ball wide to the right, for Hayward to dart through the cover defence to score to the right of the posts. He converted his own try and Cantabs were back on terms after 25 minutes.

Woodford were soon back on the attack. We were caught offside on our 10m line. They kicked to the corner, and the maul formed 15m out, gathered momentum as we hang off, and suddenly they were at the line again to make it a repeat try. Another lovely conversion had the Woodford supporters cheering and we were chasing the game again at 14 - 7.

Woodford were certainly on top in terms of territory and Cantabs had to repel another chance of a catch and drive in the left hand corner, following yet another penalty for offside. Cantabs had learnt their lesson and halted the maul. Cantabs were defending for the rest of the half and two further catch and drive attempts from the Woodford pack were repelled. No further score at half time.

Will Riggs made no changes at half time. Woodford restarted and were soon camped in our 22 again. They knocked on and Cantabs won the scrum right under our posts. Yet another kick to the corner followed and again Cantabs were alive to the danger. Hayward kicked clear and we stole the lineout. Jim Bryant made a good break through the centre, but was pulled up just a metre short of the try line. Woodford smothered the ball and we tried a quick tap penalty, but Woodford broke ranks too quickly and were penalised again. Tom Bailey elected for a scrum on 5m this time. The scrum was solid, Bryant to Hayward, his long pass out to the left was accepted by Houlden, who dived over to score in the corner. Against the breeze, Hayward's conversion dropped short, but Cantabs were very much back in the game at 14 - 12.

Woodford pressed again but a loose kick for touch was caught by Houlden, who ran diagonally across to the left wing. Cantabs secured possession and this time Hayward tried a cross field kick back to the left. But his winger had not recovered ground and Woodford took over again. Nathan Davenport gave way for our American, Wyoming Jeffries at 2nd row and Jonny Heaver took a breather to allow Ryan Molair a spell in the front row. But it was Woodford who scored next. This time they spun the ball wide to the right and their right winger utilised an overlap and despite appearing to knock on the try was given as he went over in the corner. Their kicker again converted to make it 21 - 12.

Cantabs were quick to reply again with the best move of the match. Townsend to Hayward who span the ball to the left and Adam Fastnedge timed his pass perfectly to a speeding Houlden who galloped around the defence to score close to the posts. Hayward made no mistake with the conversion; 21 - 19.

We dropped the long restart kick and faced a scrum on our 22, which Jonny Heaver re-joined with Danny Richards given a break. Ollie Townsend replaced Drew Tilley and moved to the right wing with Ollie Blackmur moving to centre. Cantabs managed to defend another kick to the corner. Their throw was crooked and we were defending a 5m scrum. Our scrum was solid, we held it in a fraction too long, and when our No 8 went to pick up a Woodford surge caused him to fumble. The Woodford spectators urged their pack on for their put in. Woodford secured possession and moved the ball wide over to the left. Cantabs cover was not there in numbers and the opposition left winger took the honours, scoring in the corner to make the score 26 - 19 with four minutes to go.

Cantabs won possession when Hayward's short restart kick was fumbled. From the resultant scrum, we lined up our backs all but Houlden to the right. As we won possession Hayward also moved to the left, but Bryant went right and had to keep possession when he failed to find his fellow half back. Cantabs continued to inch forwards towards the line, retaining possession well. We moved into the opposition 22, and were battering away with Shed, Tom and the rest of the forwards in support. Finally the error came, we knocked on, they secured their scrum and kicked to touch. Game over. Cantabs were desperate for a win as were Woodford. This win moved them off the bottom of the table, Cantabs with one point for keeping the loss down to seven means we both have 18 league points now with Woodford the better scoring record. Old Cooperians are now below us in the league and there are still four teams battling out the relegation spots.

This was a hard fought encounter, with Woodford just taking the honours as we chased the game throughout. My man of the match was Finn Morrison for his tireless running and tackling. Matt Houlden ran him close having scored two tries and starting to look like a real force out wide. Cantabs now have to battle for something against high-flying Harlow at Sedley Taylor Road next week. We have a pre-match lunch sponsored by Rathbones; if you have not yet booked your place delay no longer!

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