Cantabs made the short trip down the M11 to Upper Clapton for our second league fixture of the season. The newly promoted home side, formed in 1879, had rebadged as Epping Upper Clapton,(EUC for the purposes of this report). For those of you with long memories the old clubhouse is still there, awaiting demolition, but has now been superseded with a brand new version closer to the pitch; and a very good job they have made of it.
Cantabs welcomed back Isaia Barbieri at prop, but work commitments for James Hayward had necessitated a change at flyhalf with Alex Watton making his league debut. Jamie Williams and Ben James had swapped places in the scrum and Dan Searle was at an unfamiliar blindside. Injuries to Francois Eve, David Bloxsum and Finn Morrison had given Euan Willder a start at full-back after, moving up from the 3rds. 2nd team captain, Laurence Jones, Daren Carew and Tom Skelton made up the bench.
Cantabs kicked off into a blustery wind; one of their forwards ran it back to halfway where the EUC flyhalf returned the ball long into our 22. Cantabs' clearing kick was charged down, their winger gathered the ball stepped outside our defender and scored to in the right hand corner; no problem for the EUC kicker, 7 - 0 with just a minute gone.
First scrum went to Cantabs against the head with a great strike from Tom Bailey. Euan Willder came into the line but was poleaxed by a heavy tackle inside the opposition 22 and took a couple of minutes to recover.
Cantabs continued to press winning a penalty in the left hand corner and elected to scrum 10m out. We knocked on in the resulting phases and their flyhalf kicked mightily with the wind to push us back. Then EUC put in the best move of the match the ball being switched backwards and forwards through safe hands until their left winger had made the decisive break to score under the posts. EUC were 14 - 0 ahead with just over ten minutes gone.
For the next five minutes we were on the rack, the Essex men's lineout was working well and a penalty deep into our 22 forced us back. From the resultant attack EUC were just prevented scoring again with some big tackles on our line. Dean James who had been in the thick of the action was forced to leave the field with a bad cut under his fast-closing eye. Dr Richard Knight was concerned enough to stress that he should sit out the rest of the game, so Laurence Jones took over at flanker.
Again EUC mounted an assault down the left and it took a huge try-saving tackle from Xaver Touschek on their winger to prevent the score. However Xaver sustained a thigh muscle injury in the process and Tom Skelton was brought on to make his first team debut, having been restricted by serious injury to standing on the touchline with his camera for almost two seasons. Cantabs finally started to look forwards and good play took us up to the opposition 22, where we won a penalty when the EUC forward killed the ball at the tackle, receiving a yellow card. Nick Denham slotted the kick; 14 - 3.
From the restart, Jonny Regan surged forward down the left, beating a couple of defenders, he passed to Euan who continued the run up to the EUC 22. Cantabs then moved play to the right but we ran out of space with Tom tackled into touch. A good lineout and another long kick cleared the danger for EUC. No more score as halftime arrived.
No changes from Cantabs at half time, Darren with a suspect shoulder being saved for the final 10 minutes. Cantabs found themselves on their 22 defending a scrum. We looked to have won the ball, with a big shove from the pack. EUC were in disarray, but somehow their No 8 resurrected the situation, moved round to the blindside, interchanged passes with the right winger and scored a well worked try in the corner. Again, their kicker was accurate; the score now 21 - 3, and Cantabs looking beaten.
Xaver was restored to the game moving to fullback, Alex Watton limping off. Euan moved up to his more accustomed fly half position. Cantabs were now starting to threaten and captain Shed was just held up on the try line, by some fierce defending. Cantabs won the scrum and tried to put Regan through on the left but again he was tackled into touch. For once the EUC lineout failed to clear the pressure and Cantabs won another scrum under the posts. Jamie Williams came off the back of the scrum to go close, then Richard Knight took over and went for the line. He was tackled a metre short landing on his back, but somehow reached over his head to touchdown. Nick had no problem with the conversion and Cantabs were back in the game at 21 - 10.
Ben James took a break and Darren replaced him at 2nd row. Euan and his opposite number exchanged kick, and Cantabs were under pressure in their 22. Jonny Regan tried to run the ball out but the ball was stripped and with the help of a blatant forward pass, EUC scored again to the left of the posts. This time the post prevented the extra points, but at 26 - 10 and only five minutes to go the game was virtually over.
A great run down the left by Paul Pudney brought us into the EUC half. He was tackled into touch, but the Cantabs forwards won the ball back some 30m out from the EUC line, and started a rolling maul for the first time in the match. This continued to great effect with Jonnie Heaver directing matters at the base. Into the 22 they trundled, EUC were in complete disarray trying to halt the progress by whatever means and their forwards were disappearing under the Cantabs feet to reappear on the wrong side as we moved on. We finally arrived at the line, the maul stalled briefly, but it was Tom Bailey who shot through like a cork from a bottle to score. No luck with the conversion for Nick, but with only a minute to go we had run out of time at 26 - 15. EUC had time to win a third yellow card at the last scrum, but no matter as the game was over.
It was a strange game, Cantabs showing a lot of promise at times, certainly fitter than the opposition, but a lot of spilt ball gave EUC half a dozen good chances and they obliged their supporters by accepting four of them. Isaia made a big difference in the scrums, and although he is missing next week, he and Perksy will hopefully be back as a partnership in two weeks time. Jamie Williams looked the part at No 8 and Richard Knight is showing his class at scrumhalf. We live in hope and expectation of a win at Sedley Taylor Road next week; the opposition is South Woodham Ferrers and chef Mark Searle will have your lunch ready; don't miss it!