Cantabs made the short trip to Stowmarket after the Christmas break for the game against one of the form teams of the division; Stowmarket having won their last five games and this vein of good form had moved them to third spot in the table. James Hayward had not recovered from that ankle injury sustained against Romford, so Ollie Townsend started at fly-half. Our front row was bolstered by a rare outing from last year's captain, Tom Bailey, at hooker and Dean James replaced Finn Morrison at open-side. Ed Foster was at 2nd row, and Rich Ford moved to No 8 to replace the injured Danny Richards.
Cantabs kicked off with the breeze behind them and made good ground winning a scrum on the edge of the opposition 22. Stowmarket were pushed back and caught offside; Richard Knight slotted home the penalty and Cantabs were away at 0 - 3. Early pressure was all from Cantabs, but when Stow kicked clear Cantabs had committed too many forward and struggled to scramble the ball to safety. It was already clear that the home side had speed in their backs and would try to out-flank the Cantabs forwards. Stow went close with their left winger and again with their right winger, each time the final pass out of tackle spoiling their chances. For our part, Matt Holden had a good run down our left, but the Stow defence was up to the task. Perksy was making holes, Dean was at his battering best and Tom Bailey made some great drives beating tacklers and making good ground each time he was involved, but Cantabs tended to over elaborate and time and again lost the ball with off loads when taking the ball to ground might have been better.
A charge down by Adam Fastnedge, saw us go close, but for all the early pressure, Cantabs could not add further points. Tom Skelton joined the line and got clear briefly, but Stow's defence was up to the mark. It took Stowmarket 15 minutes, but the score finally came when a forceful run from their right winger opened us up. Stow fumbled the ball, recovered it and that distraction was enough to cause a mistimed tackle on the line; 5 - 3 to the delight of the home crowd.
Cantabs were racking up the penalty count, and twice we were taken back 10 metres for questioning the decisions. Most of the penalties were coming at the ruck and Sir was perhaps a touch too officious at times, but was always right up with play. Our front row continued to drive the scrum backwards at pace, but on their own ball Stow somehow kept possession. There was always the danger of a breakaway by one of their wingers, but time and again, Cantabs battered away with our big men, as with the previous game we hardly ever kicked the ball, preferring to work it forward. But when the mistakes came, the home side shifted the ball quickly out wide. Stow missed another great chance on the right with the final pass fumbled forward. Richard Knight then took a bad knock to his shoulder and had to leave the game. This brought about wholesale changes; Ollie moved to scrum-half, Adam to fly-half and Tom Skelton to outside centre, allowing Keiran Dolaghan to take over at full-back.
Matt Houlden had another good run down the left and drew the penalty deep inside the 22, but we knocked on in the lineout and Stow just about held on in the scrum. They attacked at speed down the left this time and again the final pass from their winger out of tackle was not on the money and Cantabs worked the ball clear. We did get back to a good position but our three man lineout failed at the second attempt, and with Cantabs spread wide across the pitch we were grateful when Stow again mis-handled in the counter attack. Then, right on half time, Cantabs were caught in possession on halfway, Stow shifted the ball to their right winger, who barrelled his way deep inside our 22 was tackled well by a covering Matt Houlden, but he still managed to get his pass away and despite a last gasp tackle on the line their centre grounded the ball to make it 10 - 3 at half time.
Will made no immediate changes at half time, Cantabs stayed out and Sir had to eventually knock on the home side changing room door to get the home side to the restart. Cantabs again started the half the better, but although we battered away, Stow soaked up the pressure and waited for the errors to come. Richard Stace made a powerful run into the 22 but the support was not their quick enough. Stow kicked clear and when their next scrum came, they managed to move the ball out wide and their left winger outpaced everyone to score gleefully in the corner. This time the conversion was good and suddenly Stow were clear at 17 - 3.
Ed Foster took a break for Laurence Jones to enter the fray at 2nd row. But now the home side were well on top and for fully ten minutes Cantabs were camped in their 22 and being battered by waves of Stow attacks. Isaia made way for Ben Tozer, but Cantabs could not break out with some furious tackling from the home side each time we got possession pinning us back in our red zone. Jonny Heaver was yellow carded for failing to release in the tackle to make things even more difficult. Although Stow could have kicked for three points, they went for touch. The lineout was one, play moved wide to the left, then back out to the right, where the overlap allowed Stow to score out wide for their bonus point. The score stayed at 22 - 3 when the conversion came back off the post.
With half the second period now gone Cantabs finally made ground with Rich Ford driving off the back of the scrum and Houlden running diagonally to make good ground. Francois continued the move out wide on the right and Cantabs drew the penalty. Adam found touch in the right hand corner. Rich Ford caught the lineout and the maul did its job, with Adam Fastnedge taking the honours; 22 - 8. Simple game when you get it right.
Jonny Heaver came back on, Richard Ford suddenly got clear and made thirty metres looking around for support he lost the ball and Cantabs were pushed back by a long kick to touch. A yellow card followed for Stow this time as their second row offended at the breakdown. Briefly we looked like another try was possible, but some great clearing kicks pinned us back in our own half. Perksy was replaced by Isaia but when Keiran was penalised for a high tackle bringing the game back to fourteen a side, the game was effectively gone for Cantabs, particularly as Dean was receiving extended treatment for a damaged finger requiring taping.
Stow took advantage straight away, battering away at our line from the resulting tap penalty. At the third attempt the Cantabs line was breached again, and the final score was now 29 - 8.
This was very disappointing after a great end to the first half of the season. This defeat puts us right back in the relegation mix, and with both of our first choice half-backs seemingly out of action going forward, it will take a lot of squad juggling to create the wins over the next few weeks.