Wanstead were the visitors and Cantabs, on the bounce from a poor performance at Stowmarket, had a point to prove against the club that we had failed to beat since the Essex men had returned to London 2. Finn Morrison was back at open-side, but captain Richard Knight was out for the foreseeable future with shoulder joint damage, so Will McFadyen was drafted in at No 9 for his season's debut, before returning to University. Jonny Heaver was skipper, in Richard's absence, and started the game as hooker.
Wanstead kicked off towards the clubhouse on a well grassed pitch with the breeze behind them; but it was Cantabs that were pressing in the early stages of the match. First decent attack was also from Cantabs with Adam Fastnedge making the initial break with a surge through the middle. Already Finn Morrison was well into his normal routine leading the way with tackle after tackle when Wanstead did get possession. The first score went to Cantabs. When our young pairing of Will and Ollie linked to set up the backs, there was room on the left. Adam Fastnedge made ground and his pass to Matt Houlden was right on the money. Matt dived over underneath two tacklers to make his try in the corner; 5 - 0 after ten minutes play.
Cantabs scrum was very solid, but Wanstead were not giving ground and their No 1 was making some good drives, and proving difficult to stop when he got moving. The next score went to the opposition and ironically so after our scrum dominance early on, it was a helping hand spotted by Sir that gave Wanstead the chance, and their fly-half made no mistake from 35 metres out to bring the score to 5 - 3.
A period of Wanstead pressure followed, with Cantabs aiding their cause with a series of penalties for breakdown offences, allowing the Essex men to push us back towards our 22. However, Wanstead were making as many errors as Cantabs at the lineout and Cantabs' try line was not threatened. Yet another penalty against Cantabs pushed us right back. Wanstead won a couple of scrums on 10m and Cantabs were living dangerously. We were tackling well, but in the end the pressure told and one of their big forwards made the line at the post; 5 - 10.
From Ollie's restart kick Matt Houlden soared and caught, this time he held onto the ball, under extreme pressure, and when the move broke down on the 22, play was brought back for the penalty. Adam made the left hand corner with the penalty, but the chance went begging with a crooked throw. Deano charged down the kick from the resulting scrum, and the ball went out of play into touch just 10m out where Wanstead had the chance to clear with a lineout. Their tall second row caught the ball, but dropped it as he landed and Cantabs forwards secured possession. Will dummied to move the ball right, then switched back to the outside where a charging Tom Stace had appeared on his left. Tom found the gap, made the line and ran round the defence to touch down at the posts. Keiran Dolaghan made no mistake with his conversion and Cantabs were back in front at 12 - 10.
Jonny Regan, back after injury, had replaced Drew Tilley at outside centre, when Drew left for treatment to a cut over his eye. The first attack from Wanstead saw Tom Stace in trouble. His knee popped out of joint and back in again, so he left the action to be taped up. Wanstead then had the chance to get back in front with a penalty from about 30m out, but this time the kick drifted wide. Cantabs were hanging onto their lead desperately, the tackling was at times ferocious and no quarter was being given by either side. Ollie Townsend made a break out of defence with some neat footwork round three defenders, Will took up the challenge, and the ball, to continue the move and Cantabs started to look more threatening again, but our final passes were not going to hand when it really mattered. Francois nearly got away on the right wing with a typical Francois bustling run down the touchline, but he became isolated and Wanstead rucked the ball back to clear once more. That was the last of the action in the first half.
Drew Tilley and Tom Stace were back on for the second half, but it was Stead who started the half the better this time, and for the first five minutes we were pegged back in and around our 22. Wanstead took advantage of an early penalty to score from the edge of the 22 and were back in front at 13 - 12. But penalty after penalty allowed Stead to keep the action confined to our half, as Cantabs continued to be forced into errors at the breakdown. Jon Perks and Finn Morrison were always at hand when we got the chance to drive through the middle and when the backs got the ball Adam and Drew were making good ground. Ed Foster was solid when a safe pair of hands were needed to give Cantabs some momentum.
A heated debate erupted at one point about the merits of hooking back or kicking through the ruck, and after an exchange of handbags from the two captains. But that was perhaps the only flashpoint from two sides knocking seven bells out of one another legally; play continued with yet another penalty to Wanstead.
Cantabs were living on the edge and it took some great tackling from Finn and Francois to prevent two try attempts in the right hand corner. Finally, Cantabs mauled their way forward, but when the maul was brought down, Wanstead were back at us. Jonny Regan replaced Drew again. We were now in the last quarter and after soaking up the pressure from Stead, Cantabs started to look more threatening again. We won a penalty 40m out and to our surprise, Jonny opted to give Kieran the chance. His faith was justified, as Kieran made no mistake, and Cantabs were ahead again at 15 - 13. Ryan Moclair gave Perksy a break up front as the kick was being taken.
Cantabs were now starting to look good again and Tom Stace made another huge break through their defence from the 10m line, but he was caught five metres from the line, Will was first to the breakdown and the move continued. Cantabs and Rich Ford went close with a drive for the line and we won a penalty five metres out under the posts. This time Jonny opted for the tap penalty with three points begging, but we managed to spurn the chance with a wild pass to Ollie and the chance had gone. Wanstead moved the ball down the right and yet again our tacklers were called into action with the Wanstead winger bundled into touch. Again our lineout was up to the mark and we worked the ball back to our 10m line. Then they gained another penalty 35 metres out on the right but this time the fly-half decided to go for the corner and Cantabs lineout was again up to the challenge as Rich Ford caught and we cleared the danger with a big kick from Keiran. Again Wanstead came back at us, but a handling error allowed Cantabs the chance to move play back centrally. That was that really, Cantabs were never threatened again and finally the ball was thumped into touch by Keiran to summon the final whistle.
This was a hard fought match, both sides knew they had been in a contest and Cantabs will welcome the break before our next match away to Norwich in a fortnight's time. Cantabs moved to mid-table with this win, Kieran was named as man of the match for that penalty strike. Honestly that accolade could have gone to Will,Tom, Adam, Finn and many more. There were 18 Cantabs players on view who were proud to wear the Clubs' colours and on this showing we are going to give anyone a good game.
Well done to Will for stepping in to help out at scrum-half, the No 9 problem is not yet resolved going forward, as he returns to University; but alongside Ollie, that was probably the youngest half back combination that Cantabs had put out for many a year, and to their credit they did a great job.