Glen Remnant was recovering at home after his enforced visit to Papworth; Will Riggs took charge of the team in his absence. We all wish Glen a speedy journey back to full health.
This was a crucial game against Harlow with both sides trying to avoid the drop out of London 2. Cantabs had won the opposite fixture at Harlow by 38 to 25, but since then both of our half backs had been lost to bad injuries. So, Ollie Townsend continued at flyhalf and Will McFadyen made the long journey from Southampton Uni to put on the number 9 jersey. Jon Perks had recovered sufficiently to rejoin the front row and should things not go to plan the bench looked particularly strong with Ben Tozer, Mara Tunivanua and last year's captain Tom Bailey making a rare pilgrimage back to Cambridge.
Harlow kicked off towards the railway in near perfect conditions for rugby, no wind, a flat yielding pitch and a bit of warmth on our backs. The visitors were soon pressing hard and although our scrum was putting them under pressure the Harlow pack was holding up well and winning their own ball. All the attacking was initially one way; towards our goal. Kieran gained possession for Cantabs and set off down the left but lost possession in the tackle and Harlow made good ground down their right winning a scrum when our defender was forced back over his own try line. Cantabs also defended the scrum well but on the second phase the ball was spun wide to the left and the Harlow right winger cut through our defence diagonally to score close to the left hand post; 0 - 7 after just 5 minutes play.
Harlow continued to press and Cantabs were lucky to avoid a second score when the Harlow flyhalf, Tom Hughes, kicked diagonally into the left hand corner and their left winger just failed to gather the ball before it rolled into touch. Harlow were not to be denied for long, a wild pass out to the right wing was not gathered by the Harlow winger, but they immediately won back possession and the Harlow forwards mauled the ball towards our line. Following a scrum on 5m, as the scrum wheeled the Harlow pack were too powerful for our defence and the second try made the score 0 - 14.
Things got worse, just three minutes late, we again lost possession in mid-field, Harlow surged forwards and scored again; 0 - 21 with less than quarter of an hour on the clock.
Cantabs then put together our first decent attack of the match with Will McFadyen involved following Ben Newman's good run down the left. Play had progressed to the right of the posts and when we won back possession at the ruck a long pass out to the left was seized on by Danny Richards who went for the line despite the overlap and scored to the left of the posts. Kieran's kick was good; 7 - 21.
Cantabs had now started to play and with the Harlow 2nd row off for 10 minutes Cantabs were at last pressing, winning a lineout following the penalty deep inside the Harlow 22. However, Harlow spoiled the possession and kicked clear. Harlow then won a lineout on the left just inside our half, and broke clear. Our tackling was woeful and Harlow had scored their bonus point try in half an hour; 7 - 28.
The next attack was initiated by Ollie Townsend, who failing to find an outlet for a pass, set off on a swerving run towards goal, he linked well with Jonny Regan took the return pass before prodding the ball towards the try line. The ball struck the right hand post support and bounced out to a grateful Will McFadyen who scored his first ever try for the 1st XV. No problem for Kieran; 14 - 28.
Harlow, attacked yet again with the half finishing, all Cantabs had to do was hold on for the last minute. We gave away a penalty, Hughes made the corner with his kick and the catch and drive did the rest. This time the try was not converted but the score had moved to 14 - 33 and it was half time. Probably our worst first half display at home this season.
Two changes at half time, Tom Bailey came on at hooker and Dean took over at scrum half with Will Knights moving to blindside. Harlow were immediately under pressure at the scrum and Cantabs started to look more threatening with Perks and Bailey surging forward at every opportunity in the loose. Rich Ford was winning the lineouts and the attacking was all one way.
Then Mara came on for Ben Newman on the left wing and Ben Tozer for Jonny Heaver, as Cantabs tried to press home their territorial advantage. We went close with a couple of scrums close to the Harlow line, but the Essex men were up to the challenge and kicked clear. Francois Eve ran the ball back making forty metres down the right wing, but his inside pass to Danny out of the tackle, up in support was not quite on the money and the chance was gone. Cantabs were now dominant and Perks then Bailey broke the line with powerful runs. The ball was spun wide to the left and Mara skipped through the defence to score at the posts; 21 - 33. Harlow supporters were now less buoyant.
Cantabs had yet another chance to bring the score s closer, gaining a 5m scrum in the right hand corner. But we were penalised when a try looked certain, because someone broke too early. Harlow kicked clear and Cantabs had to build again.
Cantabs continued to do all the attacking and gained a lineout on the opposition 10m line, Deano took over and powered forward using at least three hand-offs to force his way up to the 22, where Cantabs won the penalty. We opted for a scrum rather than the kick to the corner, but strangely then immediately spun the ball out to the backs and lost possession. But Harlow had lost their open-side flanker for ten minutes with a desperate but illegal attempt to win the ball at the ruck. This time Cantabs did go for the left hand corner, won the lineout and mauled for the line. Harlow were penalised and we opted for a five metre scrum. Harlow spoiled the push, the penalty came and again the scrum option was chosen. The scrum did its job, Deano almost got the touch down as we hit the line, but Sir had seen enough and awarded a penalty try; 28 - 33.
Cantabs continued to attack with Francois again making good ground on the right, but with the Harlow fly-half kicking well at every opportunity, we were constantly pinned back every time we lost possession. Then as the clock was running down, Harlow were playing an advantage, following a Cantabs error. They passed back to their No 10 on the 22, he kicked to clear yet again, and Drew Tilley charged the kick down, gathered the bouncing ball and scored to the left of the posts. At least that was the initial decision. As Kieran was lining up the conversion, to possibly win the match, Tom Hughes was in deep discussion with Sir. As a result, the try decision was reversed and we went back to halfway for a penalty to Harlow. That was it, Harlow kicked into touch at the first opportunity and the match was over.
After much discussion everyone had to agree that Sir had not called advantage over, and the correct decision to award Harlow a penalty had been made. This result gave Harlow 5 points and Cantabs 2 points (a try bonus and a losing bonus) and keeps Cantabs just one point ahead of Harlow in the league table. However with Ipswich winning we dropped closer to relegation and
desperately need to start winning.
Cantabs man of the match was Dean James. It was good to hear that James Hayward starts training again next week. Also great to hear that Cantabs 2nds won a thriller at Sudbury to go top of the division in their playoff section of Eastern Counties 1 and that Adam Fastnedge played in that game. It's going to be an exciting end to the season.