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Cantabs and Coopers fight out a relegation battle

Cantabs opponents in the last game of the 2017/18 season were Old Cooperians, a repeat of the fixture in the opening game of the season which had ended in a 62 to 12 defeat. Only six of the Cantabs eighteen were back for the return match, but ominously the Coopers right winger who had scored six tries that day, was in the Coopers line-up. Dave Evershed was back in Wales on lambing duties; Jonny Heaver having recovered from injury took his place in the second row. Nick Denham was also recovered sufficiently to resume at full-back with Mara Tunivanua on the bench.

The pitch was soggy after all the rain in the week and was only playable because Richard Godfrey, ably assisted by Will Riggs and Laurence Jones, had bailed hundreds of buckets of water off the playing surface. John Edmonds had managed to mark the lines just two hours prior to kick-off, so it was game on; the losers would definitely be relegated.

Coopers kicked off towards the clubhouse on a perfect rugby day, with the crowd enjoying a sunny, windless afternoon after a great French inspired pre-match lunch. Two early penalties for Cantabs, the second for a high tackle on Richard Knight, saw James Hayward move play well into the Coopers 22 on the right. The lineout on 10m was secured, the maul formed and captain Tom Bailey was assisted over the line by the pack; 5 - 0 after just three minutes play.

Early penalties were all going Cantabs way, and Hayward kicked us into the right hand corner again. The throw from our hooker was not straight, but as it had swung over to the Coopers side, Sir allowed play to continue. Rich Ford was first to react, seized the ball and made the try under the posts. Hayward's kick made the score 12 - 0 to the delight of the Cantabs touchline support.

If the first score had not awakened Coopers the second certainly did as a sustained period of pressure from the visitors finally resulted in a score under our posts; game on at 12 - 7 after 15 minutes.

Coopers were soon back in our half with their blindside flanker involved in most of their drives, and they won a penalty on the edge of our 22. There was some back chat and Sir reversed the penalty, and then moved Cantabs 10m further down the field. Dean James went off with a dead leg; Danny Richards replacing him. Coopers continued to press, and had a chance to narrow the score with a penalty centrally just fifteen metres out. However, they elected to go for the corner and promptly saw they lineout snaffled by Pete Collins. Hayward found touch, virtually on the halfway line, and the danger was averted. Again, Cantabs spoiled the Coopers lineout, but our No 10 got pinged at the ensuing ruck and Sir was upset sufficiently for him to be yellow carded. The penalty shifted Coopers back into our red zone, but again Collins stole the lineout.

Cantabs worked the ball out of their own half and half a dozen phases later, drew the penalty fifteen metres out from Coopers line. Tom elected for the scrum, with his kicker out of the action. The scrum powered forward and with just four metres to go, and Collins in control, a Coopers forward shot around the back to steal the ball out of the scrum. He was yellow carded, the Cantabs supporters all called for a penalty try, but Cantabs chose to go for the scrum again on 5m. This time Coopers had no answer and Collins took the honours to the right of the posts. Nick Denham added the extra two points to make the score 19 - 7.

Cantabs were restored to 15, and by now were dominant in both scrums and lineouts. Coopers ruined another promising attack with a crooked throw, in an attempt to avoid Ford and Collins. From the resultant scrum, Finn Morrison made the break, linked with James Hayward down the right wing and he set Matt Houlden off at speed. Matt was tackled into touch a few metres out, and that was the end of the first half action.

Cantabs made no further personnel changes at half time and the first meaningful attack came from the home side. Cantabs won a lineout on halfway and went for a three man. Collins caught, Richard Knight dummied to pass and went for the gap, he made himself some space and his pass out to the right wing found Tom Bailey, who powered down the touchline. Just ten metres out with Richard up in support and the line beckoning, Tom's pass inside was wayward and the chance had gone. Cantabs were not denied for long however, Coopers failed to clear and Cantabs moved the ball slickly down the right again with some neat inter-passing, culminating in a second try for Pete Collins in the right hand corner. James' kick thudded against the right hand post, but at 24 - 7, Cantabs were in the driving seat.

Coopers came back at Cantabs well and some powerful running down the right threatened our line. Then with acres of space beckoning on the left, their flyhalf elected for the cross kick to the left winger ten metres inside our 22. The kick looked to be on the money, but Matt Houlden had other ideas. His leap took the ball from the clutches of the Coopers winger, Matt for once found some space on the outside to beat his man, moved inside past the next tackler and was off down the right wing with Hayward alongside him. Matt was not going to pass this time, and he cut inside to score close to the posts. James' kick added the extra, and surely Cantabs were home and dry at 31 - 7.

Isaia took a well deserved break and Charlie Searle took over at prop. A high tackle on Ollie Blackmur, gave Hayward the chance to push us back into the left hand corner. This time our throw was crooked , but Coopers were defending a scrum just 10m out. Some desperate defending from Coopers and then a clean break, rewarded them with a second try , again under our posts; 31 -14

Cantabs went close again next but Tom Bailey's touchdown was denied by Sir, and we came back for a penalty 10m out. Cantabs went for the scrum, when most of our touchline were calling for the three points. Scrum after scrum followed, with Coopers desperately trying to prevent the score. Finn got with in a metre, so did Hayward, but the score would not come. Four penalties later and four scrums later, our scrum was penalised and Coopers survived. Isaia was restored to the front row with fifteen minutes to go, Perksy taking a break. Mara came on at full-back for Nick Denham. Coopers kicked clear to halfway and then made the break yet again, and again scored by the 2nd row cutting in from the left to score at the posts; 31 - 21 completely against the run of play.

Cantabs moved back onto the attack, won a penalty eight metres out, again elected for a scrum. Coopers held up the drive, Richard span the ball out to the left and Ollie Blackmur finished the move with a dive over the line in the corner. Hayward's kick fell short, but at 36 - 21 and five minutes to go, surely Cantabs had done enough?

The last attack of the game came from Coopers, and again they got through our line to score under the posts. That was the final play of the game and a final score of 36 - 28. A bonus point win for Cantabs moved us up to 7th, Coopers with just one point are relegated. Quite a turn around from the first game of the season. Four wins for Cantabs out of the last six games saw us move from 12th. The catalyst for Cantabs recovery was the return of Perksy, After sixteen games in the wilderness, the prodigal prop returned to do a marvellous job. Good also to see Dean James back after missing most of the season, and Rich Ford's contribution over those six games was also immense. However man of the match on this occasion was Pete Collins, whose four tries in the last two games were vital.

So, Cantabs start again next season in London 2. Now onto the Annual Dinner next week and a few trophies to award, and I hope to see many of you at our Summer Ball on 14th July, make sure you don't miss out on tickets.

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