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Cantabs lose to relegation rivals South Woodham

Cantabs travelled to South Woodham Ferrers for this relegation battle. SWF were second from bottom and Cantabs two places above them, with just three points separating the sides. Dean James started at scrum half and Matt Houlden had been reinstated as left winger after his match winning performance for the 2nds last week. Cantabs appeared to be without a recognised kicker in Kieran Dolaghan's absence, so Francois Eve was moved to full back and Rowan Haines took his place on the right wing.

The game kicked off in a stiff breeze on a soft pitch, with Cantabs playing with the wind at their backs. Following Cantabs first attack both Dean James and Rich Ford had taken knocks requiring treatment. The game resumed and SWF broke up our attack and made good ground down the left. Cantabs defence was hesitant and the SWF winger took full advantage to round the defence scoring to the left of the posts. The conversion struck the far post and crept over; 7 - 0 to the home side after just five minutes.

SWF then took advantage of handling in the ruck to score from the edge of our 22, with a well struck penalty against the wind to increase the score to 10 - 0. At that point captain, Jonny Heaver limped off to be replaced by Ben Tozer at second row, he had only lasted nine minutes and appeared to be struggling from the kick-off. Dean was kicking well with the wind and twice cleared the danger with kicks deep into the SWF half. The second from a penalty gave us a lineout on 5m, where Rich Ford secured the throw, but our passing out through the back line was ponderous and the SWF defence was quick to smother any progress.

Matt Houlden was denied a try on the left, when their touch judge ruled his foot had hit the line; we saw it differently but the chance had gone. That was the closest Cantabs came to scoring.

Cantabs pressed but did not look like worrying the score board; SWF appeared more up for the game and their big runners were making better progress every time they were in possession. SWF reached our 22 and won a penalty which they hit to the corner, secured their lineout and were only denied a try when Sir cancelled the score for "crossing". Dean James again needed treatment, but soldiered on. Cantabs were defending desperately now, with too many first tackles broken, SSW were looking the more likely to score.

Finn Morrison was showing the scars of battle with his white head bandage leading the way as he moved from one tackle to the next. It took SWF half an hour to make the next score. Some strong mauling down the left, Cantabs tackling was again suspect, and when their scrum half cut loose and shot inside e, the gap opened up for him and it was their second try. Matt Houlden was up so fast on the conversion that he managed to charge down the kick, so the score was restricted to 15 - 0. That was it for the first half, Cantabs still not looking like scoring.

No changes from Will Riggs at half time and with the second half restart kick from Ollie again swallowed up by the home side, Cantabs were on the back foot again. Now the SWF flyhalf was able to take advantage of the wind and following a penalty for not releasing he rather emphasised why we needed a kicker by pinning us back deep inside our 22. Cantabs won the lineout but had to try to run the ball out. Five minutes later we were still trying to exit our 22. Eventually we did get a penalty and Dean found touch at the SWF 10m line. Again our lineout won possession but SWF were able to win the ball back when our passing broke down. Danny won the ball well at the back of the scrum and we moved the ball smartly out to the right where Rowan nearly got away but a last desperate tackle halted his progress and with the ball breaking clear SWF kicked deep into our half. Matt Houlden again saved the day when the opposition broke clear down the wing, but SWF were not to be denied for long. Again their kicker hit the corner, Finn was again patched up with another yard of white tape. From the resulting scrum on the right, SWF secured possession and moved the ball out through the backs to the other wing. Francois stopped the move with a tackle in the corner, but a supporting player was able to move in smartly to make the score in the corner. Again our runners ruined the conversion attempt, but the home side were well clear at 20 - 0.

Fergus Wilson and Will McFadyen were then given their chance, with Dean moving to blindside. Ollie Dakin and Rowan Haines were given a break. SWF continued to pin us back in our own 22 for a long period. However, eventually Cantabs did break clear and enjoyed their best period of play. But it was all rather too late. A penalty took us up to the 5m line on the left. Again our lineout was secured, and Cantabs shifted play across the field, winning another penalty for offside. From 5m out under the posts, a scrum option was chosen. The scrum did its job and Isaia Barbieri restored some pride with a try to the left of the posts. No problem for Danny Richards, who added the extra points. That was that; final score 20 - 7.

Over the last ten years these reports have often been a pleasure to write up as the Club has progressed through to London 2. I am afraid that this one was far from a pleasure. At the moment, relegation is beckoning and it will take a giant turn around in the last three games to prevent this from happening. We will need to score a minimum of one win and probably two wins from those three games to ensure we stay at this level for next season. Both Harlow and South Woodham have equally difficult games but with Cantabs now third from bottom and three clubs facing relegation we are hovering over the trap door.

At home, our 2nd XV had a great win against Norwich 2s, and head their end of season mini league in Eastern Counties 1.

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