Cantabs went into the penultimate league fixture of the season needing a minimum of one win from their last two games of the season. This one was the return visit to second place Romford & Gidea Park; against whom James Hayward's season had finished when he limped off with ligament damage in the 19 all draw at Sedley Taylor Road.
For the first time in three seasons Cantabs had named an unchanged side, but the late arrival of Jonny Regan meant he started on the bench. The weather dictated shirt sleeve order, and the pitch was well grassed as Cantabs kicked off. The first two scrums resulted in penalties to Cantabs, and these allowed Cantabs some territorial advantage to the frustration of the Romford crowd, with Kieran kicking towards the corners. A tackle off the ball on Drew Tilley then gave us a further penalty 35 metres out, which narrowly missed to the right. Play was restricted to the area between the two ten metre lines as each side struggled to make an impact. Then when Cantabs moved the ball up to the opposition 22 and Romford knocked on, the resulting scrum resulted in yet another penalty. This time Kieran made no mistake and after ten minutes we were up 0 - 3.
From the restart Cantabs were then under pressure and camped in their 22. Twice we regained the ball and tried to pass our way up field, but Romford continued to win the ball back and finally won a scrum on the edge of our 22 out right. The home side secured possession and switched the ball out wide and when their flanker hit the pass at speed he ran through a gap to score under the posts; 7 - 3 after 25 minutes.
It was a case of deja vu just five minutes later; a Romford scrum centrally, well inside the 22, this time gave them the chance to batter our line with their forwards. Four times the opposition went close, then having sucked in our defence the ball was moved wide to the left and this time their inside centre cut through to go under the posts; 14 - 3 and things looking ominous for Cantabs.
Cantabs were struggling to break the line, a chip over their defence from Finn Morrison showed how this might be achieved. His effort was halted by a blatant block. But Dean James maybe had noted this and took the ball out wide on the right from our next attack. He kicked high over the tacklers and set off at speed. He hit the Romford catcher as he landed, the ball popped out and a grateful Tom Stace up in support, gathered it to run unopposed over the try line to score at the posts; 14 - 10. The Romford crowd were noisily claiming a foul, and their man had to be withdrawn from the action such was the ferocity of the contact with the rampant James.
Unfortunately our euphoria did not last long. The Romford restart kick was dropped inside our 22, and from the resultant scrum Romford moved the ball out wide and with Matt Houlden facing two attackers, the final pass only had to be on the money; it was and their right winger made it try number 3 for Romford. The kick failed but the home side were up 19 - 10.
Following a long kick into our half from a Romford attack that went dead, Finn Morrison leapt to gather Ollie's well placed drop out. He was tackled in mid air by the Romford right winger and unceremoniously dumped on his head. After a long pause for treatment, Sir produced his red card and Romford were a man short for the remainder of the game. The half finished with no further score.
No changes made by Glen at half time. At the start of the second half Dean James and Rich Ford combined well on the right with some lovely sleight of hand to work the ball down the touchline. Dean kicked ahead, then Kieran kicked long towards the right hand corner and forced the defender to kick hurriedly into touch. Ben Newman then took a breather bringing Jonny Regan into the game. Romford were now on the back foot and Cantabs went close to scoring, but drew the penalty. Kieran hit the corner and from the 5m lineout, Ford caught, the maul formed, we switched it wide and it was Finn Morrison who shot through the defence to score at the posts; 19 - 17 and game on. Nugget Moclair took a break and allowed Harry Wilson to slot in at blindside. Tom Stace moved to 2nd row and Jonny Heaver took over at prop.
Dean James then took a bad knock to his right knee, but after a long bout of treatment he hobbled back towards the next scrum. Romford then made a rare incursion into our 22, with a penalty to the left hand corner. Cantabs defended desperately as the maul moved towards our try line. We knocked on and two scrums from 12 metres out and then ten metres out, saw even more desperate defensive tackling from Cantabs. Finally, with Romford on the try line, Sir awarded the score. Our lads claimed it was a knock on that was missed, but the score stood; 24 - 17 with the conversion missing.
Dean was then removed from action to protect his knee for the last game, allowing Will McFadyen the last period of the game at scrum half. Cantabs were now dominant and won a scrum on the edge of the Romford 22. The ball was moved wide to the right and Kieran scored in the corner at ease. I thought he should have tried to run round towards the posts. But he was obviously confident he could kick the conversion from the touchline. Sure enough the ball sailed away high through the sticks; 24 - 24. Surely not another draw with just five minutes left on the clock?
There looked to be only one winner, as Cantabs pressed and it was Romford looking the more likely to concede. However with time up and Romford making a last ditch effort to win, we were caught offside 30 metres out to the left of our posts. Their young substitute, who had missed the last conversion, stepped up for the kick. He only just reached, the ball struck the right hand post, hit the left hand post, and bobbled onto the bar. It just had enough momentum to drop over on the wrong side for Cantabs; 27 - 24. Game over.
Five points to Romford which probably gives them a playoff game, and losing bonus point to Cantabs which moves us two points clear of the relegation zone, as neither Harlow or South Woodham Ferrers managed to win. Our final game will be at Ipswich next week and on this performance the lads can still avoid the drop.
Man of the match for me was Dean James. I am sure he will be back next week patched up with yet more bandages and tape; but Glen should be proud of all of the lads after this showing.
Our 2nd XV had another great win against Sudbury 2nds and with two games left still have a chance to win their section of the Eastern Counties 1 playoffs. For them it is Halstead away next week and a final game for the silverware against Diss 2nds on 13th April at Sedley Taylor Road.