For this game at Epping, Cantabs started with Richard Ford at 2nd row and moved Jonny Regan to centre. Francois Eve had returned form deepest Brazil and new recruit Manuel Carvahlo was on the bench. The conditions were near perfect, with the best day of the winter by far. Just two points separated the two clubs in London 2NE and Cantabs were seeking revenge for a 17 to 29 defeat at the end of October which started our slide down the table.
James Hayward kicked off down the slope and the Epping fullback caught the ball deep inside his 22. He attempted to kick for touch but Rich Ford was up quickly to charge down the kick and the ball fell to Francois Eve who scored to the right of the posts in a pile of bodies. Just fifteen seconds gone and Cantabs were up 0 - 7 as James Hayward added the extra two.
Finn Morrison was like a one-man tornado, disrupting every attempt from Epping to get their attack going. The Cantabs scrum was looking solid, but as usual the referee seemed to ignore the fact the opposition scrum half was feeding his 2nd row, so Tom Bailey had no chance in stealing possession. Two penalties in quick succession saw Hayward kick for the left hand corner. We took the lineout that followed and moved the ball out to the right and but for a last wild pass to Francois he would have scored the second try. Finn Morrison forced another handling error on the Epping 22, and our scrum did its job. Again Francois went close, caught a metre out, Finn Morrison took over and was also denied. We shipped the ball left and a deliberate knock down by their back was penalised with a yellow card. Hayward made no mistake from fifteen metres; Cantabs were clear at 0 - 10 after 22 minutes.
Rich Ford then broke clear on the left, Hayward took over, chipped the ball over the defence and just won the race to the line; Sir awarding the try after consulting his touch judge. James failed to convert this time, but Cantabs were well on top at 0 - 15. Upper Clapton then made a rare excursion into our half, a kick ahead was punted into touch by Nick Denham with their runners leaving him no option. The lineout was just six metres from Cantabs line. Their prop caught the ball and went over unopposed to get the home side off the mark at 5 - 15.
Then the moment of the match. Hayward's drop out went deep, was caught well by their full-back who kicked high out of the 22. James anticipated the direction of the return kick, caught it just inside our half, steadied himself and drop-kicked high over the goal from fully 55 metres; 5 - 18. A remarkable kick with no wind assistance whatsoever.
Epping were shell-shocked and the half ended with Cantabs denied another try after Ford intercepted a pass across the Epping 22 and seemed to score, but this time the ball was adjudged held up. Cantabs won the resulting scrum and drew the penalty. The Epping scrum half left the field for ten minutes as a result. We elected for another scrum and at the second attempt contrived to be penalised with the Epping pack backing rapidly towards their line. So ended a great half for Cantabs, with the job seemingly nearly done.
Epping restarted and Cantabs could not get out of their half. Eventually the pressure told and we were caught offside. From 20 metres the kick was missed and Cantabs breathed more easily. Finn Morrison forced the error, and Cantabs finally moved into the opposition half. However a forward pass allowed Epping a chance to attack again. A further kick to the corner did the damage and when the Epping kicker got another chance just fifteen metres out, this time he made no mistake; 8 - 18. Now the home crowd were willing their side on as with the early territorial advantage they sensed their side was on the up. Finn Morrison made two big tackles but the third man eluded him and ran through our defence to score under the posts; 15 - 18.
Epping now really had their tails up, Francois was caught retaliating as he was head-locked off the ball, and he took ten minutes out. The supremacy in numbers now really counted as Epping swept forward and Cantabs were defending desperately. Richard Knight took a bad knock on the knee, but stayed on. Ollie Lewis was brought on to steady the defence, but Epping were soon over the try line again to go into the lead for the first time at 22 - 18. Epping were now well on top. We were penalised, a great kick to the left hand corner gave them their next chance. The lineout was caught and their forward went over. As the try was converted, Richard Knight limped off, and Nick Denham took over at scrum-half, with Jonny Regan moving to full-back and on came Manuel Carvalho at centre for the last 25 minutes. The score however had progressed to 29 - 18 and Epping had scored 24 points without reply.
As we entered the last quarter of the game, Francois was back on to restore our numbers. Cantabs then got into the opposition half for virtually the first time in the half. A penalty from Hayward found touch ten metres out, we took the lineout and started to play again, moving the ball first right then back to the left. Regan went for the line, and just managed to get his pass away to the left wing, where Matt Houlden caught and dived to make the score. Hayward converted from wide out and Cantabs were back within four points at 29 - 25.
Now it was all Cantabs, we caught the restart kick and moved straight back into the Epping half. Finally, our passes were going to the man and the pressure told when Drew Tilley scored, despite being tackled, to the left of the posts. Again, Hayward added the extra two points to make the score 29 - 32.
With ten minutes to go, Matt Houlden was first to a kick out of defence and was close at getting free on the left. Epping were caught offside, Hayward's kick found the left hand corner at 5m out. Rich Ford caught the short throw, the maul formed and did its job, Epping were nowhere to be seen as Tom Bailey went over at ease. Again James added the extra points and Cantabs were nearly home and dry with five minutes to go at 29 - 39.
Epping had one big blast at closing the deficit, Dan Searle was on for Finn, Cantabs were pinned back in their 22, and repelled attack after attack. But a succession of penalties, a yellow card for Drew Tilley and finally the pressure told as their big prop went over at the post in the last play of the game. Final score - Epping Upper Clapton 36, Cantabs 39.
That's three wins on the trot for Cantabs; we have to wait to see whether Richard Knight's knee recovers, but with this victory we moved to fifth from bottom and leapfrogged Epping in the process.
No real doubt on man of the match - it has to go to flyhalf, James Hayward. The drop goal was the golden moment, but his kicking was the difference between the two sides. Rich Ford also had a great game on his return to the side, and Finn Morrison again tackled like a demon.
Next league game is against second in the table Sudbury, at Sedley Taylor Road on 3rd March. I cannot promise a repeat of the 36 - 0 hiding we gave them last time they visited us, but I can promise a hard fought game and a pre-match lunch from our resident French chef, Mme Eve. Don't miss it!