Romford and Gidea Park were the visitors at Sedley Taylor Road and nine straight wins since the opening day loss against Saffron Walden had seen then rise to the top of the division. Cantabs' form was improving, but it was all change in the front row from the trio that had finished the game against Southwold. Richard Knight was back at nine so the versatile Ollie Townsend moved to inside centre and there was a second appearance for Keiran Dolaghan, who started at full back.
There were a couple of showers early in the game, but otherwise conditions were good. Cantabs chose to kick off against the wind towards the railway. For nearly ten minutes Romford were restricted to their own half and Cantabs battled away but frankly did not get close to scoring. A high tackle on Richard Knight gave James Hayward the first opportunity to kick to the right hand touchline and our line out scrambled the ball out to the backs, Romford resisted that attack and the scrum that followed inside their 22, and broke clear for the first time. Cantabs tackling was good, and Romford were clearly not going to have it all their own way. However, an optimistic cross-field kick from the Romford fly-half towards the bank ran out of steam just a couple of metres from the touchline. Matt Houlden attempted to kick it into touch, but was nudged in the attempt, missed the ball and the Romford right winger collected the ball diving over in the corner. The conversion was on the money, and against the run of play, the visitors were ahead at 0 - 7.
The restart kick was spilled; their man kicked the ball away in anger, and lost ten more metres. James kicked to the left hand corner. Ed Foster caught the lineout, the maul formed and was moving towards the line when it was illegally pulled down. Cantabs chose a scrum, and this time Romford were penalised for pulling down again. Third penalty was the scrum option again, this time Cantabs shifted the ball to the backs, Richard Knight, went one way then the other and was tackled on the line, adjudged not held and scored. James converted and Cantabs were level at 7 - 7.
Keiran was looking solid at full back and showed a couple of times that he too can kick. Tom Stace, Danny and Finn Morrison were all up quickly and tackling well. But, Romford then enjoyed their best spell of pressure with Cantabs tackling desperately to keep them out. Wave after wave of Romford attacks brought play up to the half hour mark and Cantabs were defending in their 22. Finally the pressure told, Romford gained a penalty just ten metres from the posts. They took a quick tap, Cantabs were asleep, and suddenly it was 7 - 14.
Cantabs scrum was now under pressure, our lineout throws were not finding the man, and it took some good clearing kicks from Hayward to keep Romford pinned back. Cantabs did have one further attempt to get level. Hayward went close as Cantabs back started to put some passes together. James was injured in his attempt to score, but after treatment got up to take the penalty and find touch in the left hand corner again. We secured the lineout but Romford again spoiled the maul. Cantabs won another penalty, Danny Richards caught the ball, appeared to be taken out in the air, and Romford shepherded the ball into touch. That was it for the first half: Romford probably deserving of their lead.
No changes in the Cantabs lineout at the start of the second half. Romford started the better and restricted Cantabs to their own half for the first five minutes. The Romford maul was looking strong and Cantabs were struggling to stop its progress. Romford had an attempt at goal from our 10m line, but the wind took the kick wide. Ten minutes into the half and Ryan Moclair gave Dave O'Neill his chance, he took over from Jonny Heaver at second row; Jonny moving to prop. Romford were doing all the attacking, our back row were tackling like demons to restrict their chances at moving the ball wide, but when Romford succeeded in getting width Francois and Matt were stifled the moves with good defence. Then, Jonny Heaver rucked through the Romford defence and won the ball, the ball was moved left and Keiran Dolaghan went very close to scoring. Sir awarded a scrum in the corner and suddenly Romford were under pressure. Romford made a mess of clearing their line, we shifted the ball to the right and Hayward found the gap that he had been searching for all afternoon to score to the right of the posts; 12 - 14 and Cantabs were back in the game.
Romford were causing us problems in the scrum still and giving Danny a lot to do on our ball. For his part he never shirked when it came to physicality and was a handful at every opportunity. Hayward again broke through the line with a lovely dummy before gliding 30m up the field. He lost control of the ball trying to pass out of tackle, but Cantabs were now putting some pressure on the opposition at this stage. Finally the pressure told and this time Cantabs enjoyed a lucky break. Romford lost control around half way, Hayward hacked the ball ahead, hacked again and it was a race between him and Matt Houlden as to who would score; Hayward's second. This time his conversion from the left was good; 19 - 14 and Cantabs were ahead for the first time.
There were about twelve minutes to go and Romford were staring at defeat. Now their forwards took over, a couple of penalties later and Romford were camped in our 22. A further penalty, the lineout on five and Cantabs were defending desperately. Romford won a scrum on five and inevitably took us back over the try line to level up the match at 19 - 19. The conversion was not made. Cantabs tried then to restrict play to the Romford half, but the visitors got close enough, won a penalty and again went for the win. Yet again the kick was unsuccessful.
Then with five minutes left on the clock, Hayward shaped up to drop kick from halfway, saw his kick would be blocked and charged at the defence again. This time he came off worse; and was helped out of the game with damage to his ankle. Finlay Laing came on at full back, Keiran moving to centre and Ollie moved to fly-half. Cantabs saw out time still attacking for the winner. The final whistle came and so the game ended in a 19 - 19 draw - fair result probably.
Man of the match was James Hayward and we all hope he makes it to next week's game, when Saffron Walden visit. Cantabs will be out to give them a far better game than was seen at Henham and on current form with a full squad I am sure that will happen; don't miss it!