Cantabs entertained unbeaten Woodford at Sedley Taylor Road on a cold blustery afternoon with rain threatening. There was a new man at outside centre, Irishman Kieran Dolaghan making his debut. Otherwise just two other changes with Jonny Heaver back at 2nd row and Laurence Jones replacing Dean James at blindside.
There was a minute silence prior to kick-off in memory of Alan (Barty) Bartholomew, a much-loved Cantab whose funeral had been held just the previous day. It is hard to believe we will no longer see him in his favourite spot at the bar; just as he had been at our previous home match. Barty had fought a long and noble battle against illness and our next home game and its pre-match lunch on 17th November will honour his memory.
Cantabs kicked off towards the clubhouse with the wind behind them, but Woodford worked the ball back immediately and two hopeful hacks later down the right wing saw them score a try in the corner; 0 - 5 and the worst possible start for the home side.
Cantabs however were tackling well and were soon on the scoreboard. A penalty from the Woodford 10m line was struck straight through the posts by James Hayward to bring the score to 3 - 5 after six minutes. For the next ten minutes play was backwards and forwards around the centre line. Woodford backs were trying to run the ball, and looking threatening. Cantabs tackling was penalised a couple of times and Jon Perks was perhaps lucky to escape a yellow for a hit on their influential No 8.
Hayward's huge kicks with the wind were constantly taking the play back into the Woodford half each time the visitors' attacks broke down. Finn Morrison's tackling was a joy to watch and his hits on their ball carriers disrupted play time and time again. Hayward had another chance of three points with a second attempt from the 10m line, but this one faded away past the post on the wind. Cantabs were now pushing hard in the Woodford 22, but the Essex men held firm with resolute defence. Cantabs went close through Morrison, his chip over the defence was carried over the line and touched down by their winger. Jack Holland had sustained a back injury, however, and for the 5m scrum Cantabs moved Jonny Heaver up to hooker and Ben Tozer came in at 2nd row. Woodford were penalised for coming up in the front row, Jonny Heaver took a quick tap, surprising the Woodford defence, and made the line; 8 - 5 to Cantabs.
Woodford made the next meaningful attack, but strong tackling finally caused the move breakdown deep in the Cantabs 22. From the scrum, Danny Richards broke away with some determined running. But Woodford were soon back on the attack. This time their left winger found some space and ran at our back, chipped beautifully over Hayward and scored in the corner despite two Cantabs tacklers on the line. Again the conversion fell short, but Woodford had moved back into the lead at 8 - 10.
Woodford were now on top and a beautiful diagonal run from their fly-half wrong footed Cantabs' defence completely and he powered over the line to increase the lead to 8 - 15.
Finn Morrison continued his one-man assault on their backs each time Woodford tried to mount another attack, and some determined defence from Cantabs, together with some good kicking from our fly-half, meant there was no further score at half time. The rain had finally arrived, much as forecast, and both teams took shelter for the break.
Glen made one change at half time, bringing on Drew Tilley at centre and moving Kieran Dolaghan across to the right wing to replace Tom Skelton. Cantabs pressed at the start of the half; Tozer was now at Hooker. Woodford lost their left winger after a bad landing from an attempted catch of a high cross from Hayward to a speeding Matt Houlden. Their No 8 had also been substituted and Cantabs were now starting to look more threatening. However, it was an interception from Kieran Dolaghan that created the next score. He took the ball on our 10m line, and galloped down the right wing and just made the try line as he was caught and tackled. James Hayward hit a beautiful conversion from the touchline against the wind, and Cantabs had levelled the game at 15 - 15.
A big kick into our 22, put Ollie Townsend under pressure, but he sidestepped the on rushing tackler and got his pass away to the supporting Danny Richards. His run took him past four tackles and into the opposition half. Cantabs now took the game to Woodford and their 22 was under siege. Hayward and Knight, then Morrison went close. Finally Rich Ford was pulled across the line by their defenders and touched down; 20 - 15 and Cantabs dared to hope.
Perksy sustained another cut above his right eye to match the one over his left and required extended patching up before he could rejoin the front row. Hayward finally kicked clear but his kick did not reach touch and back Woodford came again. Predictably it was No 10 who did the damage, exchanging passes with his winger and he scored their fourth, and bonus point, try to level the game up at 20 - 20. Yet again Woodford failed to convert.
Harry Wilson was now on for Laurence Jones at blindside for the last quarter of the game. Cantabs fought hard to stop Woodford from scoring and phase after phase from our forwards relentlessly moved play back into Woodford territory. Cantabs forced themselves into the left hand corner with a Hayward penalty, but the lineout throw was awry and Woodford cleared the danger. Cantabs kept up the pressure and moved the ball back into the 22, passed out to the right but Finn Morrison snatched at the pass, and knocked on with the line at his mercy. It was just not our day.
There was still 10 minutes to go and Cantabs were doing all the attacking. Perksy blasted through three tackles, white bandana leading the way. Jonny Heaver took up where perksy left off and cleared out another man, The ball went out to Dolaghan and he got within seven metres; a scrum to Woodford resulted. Jonny Heaver tackled high as Woodford broke clear and Jonny took no further part in the game. We battled bravely with a man short in the scrum, but Woodford sensed victory. Then with a minute to go, they finally broke through a tiring defence to score at the posts; 20 - 27.
Cantabs did get back into the corner for a last gasp attempt at
levelling up the game yet again, but our lineout was lost and Woodford jubilantly kicked the ball into the banking to celebrate a win they perhaps didn't deserve. Great fighting from Cantabs against the in-form team of the division who will know they were pushed all the way. A great game of rugby showing Cantabs are not down and out just yet.
Danny Richards had a great game at No 8, but my man of the match has to go to Finn Morrison, our human Exocet. He was so close to capping it all with a try as well - there is just no justice!