Cantabs required three wins from three games to ensure promotion prior to this match against a Wanstead side that had given Sudbury a tough game just recently and had won their last match by over 70 points. Sami was back at centre and Jonnie Heaver and Ollie Lewis kept their places in the 2nd row. Wanstead had quite a few new faces from the team we had met in Essex and appeared very keen; starting their warm-up at least half an hour earlier than Cantabs. Mick Jones had anticipated a hard fought game and so it proved.
Wanstead kicked off towards the railway on a dry pitch, with a very cold wind blowing in from the north east. Cantabs ran the ball back and when Perksy tried to barrel his way through he was unceremoniously tackled hard into the ground. Sir ruled it dangerously as it happened and David Reed was handed the ball. His kick from 35m was long and true; 3 - 0 to Cantabs after less than two minutes.
Next real action followed shortly after the restart with a catch and drive from a lineout just inside our half took play 25m into the opponents half. Clearly the Cantabs pack had an advantage upfront. The rolling maul finally ended in a pile-up and Pete Collins was penalised for holding on; when clearly we had been pulled down.
David Bloxsum was finally brought into the action, and showed his form of the previous week with a great run down the left wing outpacing three attempts to tackle him. We were now inside their 22 and won a penalty, just 10m out, and elected for the scrum. Wanstead held on, Dean James moved it wide and Wanstead offended again at the ruck were penalised right in front of the posts. Dean took a quick tap,intending to muscle his way over. Sir brought play back and penalised their outside flanker with a ten minute break. From the scrum, Wanstead wheeled us and were shortly penalised again as we moved the ball wide. This time Dean opted for the lineout on 5m with a short punt to touch. Wanstead retreated as Pete Collins caught the throw and negated our rolling maul. This rather confused the Cantabs pack and Wanstead were able to clear their line. Wanstead had clearly done their homework and our pack's strength in the maul and scrum was being countered by some clever tactics.
Wanstead then showed how dangerous their backs could be with the diminutive scrum half calling all the shots. Play was taken up to the left hand corner with a well struck penalty and Cantabs had to be at their best to deny the Essex power men from breaching our line. Dan Searle was adjudged to have killed the ball at the ruck and he too joined his opposing flanker on the sideline. Wanstead turned down the easy three and tried again with their big guys. This time Dean wriggled his way clear with the ball from a ruck on our line; but it was clearly game on. Cantabs had been restricted to their own half for more than ten minutes and Wanstead were finally restored to fifteen, and brought on their big number 17 for the next couple of scrums to try and counter our depleted pack.
Cantabs moved the ball wide to the left and our attack was halted by a deliberate knock-on, giving our fly-half another chance of points. This time the kick sailed to the left of the posts and with 25 minutes gone it was still 3 - 0. Cantabs were now back in the game and David found touch deep inside the Stead half. Another penalty followed at the lineout and this time Dean popped the ball out on 5m. Again at the lineout Wanstead backed off, as our maul formed from the catch. Now, as I understand it, if the defenders do not engage by taking an immediate step back and the attackers take the maul forward one step; a penalty is awarded to the defending team for accidental offside. In this case, perhaps the defenders did not move back quick enough or perhaps Sir interpreted the laws differently, who knows? In any event our maul moved to their line and once there with no whistle the Stead defenders engaged and were successful in preventing the score. We were awarded a 5m scrum. Ben James at No 8, guided the ball towards the line as our pack trundled forward. Then a metre from the line a Wanstead forward dived into the scrum to grab the ball. The result: a penalty try awarded to Cantabs. David made no mistake and it was 10 - 0. That was the last action in the half.
No changes as the second half started. First real attack was set up by Finn Morrison who took the ball from a ruck, wriggled his way through two tackles and moved the ball wide to the right; he was there again as our backs pulled play back to the left and were it not for some sloppy passing four phases later we were starting to look more like it. Stead capitalised on the error to set up their own backs through their hard working scrum half. The Wanstead flyhalf kicked high over our backs and Jonnie Heaver did really well to cling on to the ball in the face of two Essex runners. Wanstead continued to press hard and Cantabs were penalised and then again for not retreating ten from the tapped penalty. This time Stead took the kick from bang in front; 10 - 3.
Ben James then suffered a knock in the tackle and left with blurred vision in his left eye, taking no further part in the game. Pete Collins moved to No 8 with Oli Roche in at blindside. Stead continued to push hard and a penalty brought them to our 5m line. The Cantabs line was then bombarded for the second time in the match as their second rows and centre tried to breach the line. Cantabs with-held the pressure from the quick taps and two scrums close in, and were awarded a scrum themselves close to our 22 as we broke clear. Despite the dominance in the scrum, Cantabs were penalised. Stead opted for the attempt at goal from 20m and were successful with the kick; 10 - 6 and some concern on the touchline from the Cantabs faithful.
Cantabs then made good ground won the penalty from a ruck infringement and David hit the corner. Pete Collins clung onto the ball, again Wanstead tried their offside ploy, again it failed. We won the scrum and somehow Wanstead held us, Dean broke from the back of the scrum and was denied just a metre short. Cantabs re-cycled and won another penalty. Scrum option was chosen on 5m again. This time Wanstead wheeled the scrum and got the put in. Their hooker got a clean strike for once which must have surprised the defenders as the ball shot out of the back of the scrum into the dead ball area, closely followed by a streak of blue and white which pounced on the ball. The blue and white emerged triumphantly as captain Dan Searle who had fittingly scored what proved to be the winner. David's attempt from the touchline drifted wide with the wind, but Cantabs were home and dry at 15 - 6.
That was not the end of the action. Wanstead got their right winger away with a slick passing move, he was about to ground the ball for a try when Bloxsum appeared like an arrow to tackle him in the dead ball area. Sir adjudged the ball head up, in any event the winger's foot had slipped outside the line as he was tackled. Cantabs defended the scrum and broke away themselves. Time ran out with Cantabs under no further threat.
Wanstead played very well, and should they keep this new squad together, will be a real threat next season. Their clever tactics denied us a lot of good ball in the set pieces, but it was our pack which finally won through despite this. Sami and Finn looked very solid in the centres and Dean James is back with a vengeance after fifteen months out. Our defensive training sessions have certainly tightened up the team; a good set of Wanstead backs were denied time and time again.
Away from this action, West Norfolk scored a resounding victory at Harlow and are now level on points with Cantabs. So, to be sure of promotion, Cantabs require two five-point victories at Beccles next week and at home to Lowestoft and Yarmouth on 11th April.
Our 2nd XV were confirmed Champions of Eastern Counties 2W when Sawston disappointingly conceded their home match against us. The lads now go into a playoff, probably against Woodbridge, for a place in Eastern Counties 1. Fantastic season for the 2nds and again confirming the strength in depth of the club.