Cantabs faced a resurgent Thurston in this London 3NE encounter. James Hayward was still working abroad, so new man Jos Crush was selected at fly-half and Finlay Laing dropped back to full-back. Otherwise the squad was mostly unchanged just a few positional shufflings. The pitch was soft, but without a hint of wind and on an unusually warm winter day, Cantabs kicked off towards the railway.
Cantabs showed their intentions to play some open rugby with a strong run by Francois Eve and a great series of passes which brought play into the Thurston 22. Tom Bailey was tackled without the ball and Finlay found the corner with the resultant penalty. Thurston withstood the pressure but another penalty pushed them straight back into the same left hand corner. Again the lineout was taken but a poor final pass ruined the move. Cantabs were soon back on the attack with a break down the left by Adam Fastnedge, he slipped the ball outside to Luke Farrow on the wing. Luke drew the tackle and passed back inside to Adam; 5 - 0 after just four minutes. And that was as long as Francois lasted I am afraid; he limped off with a calf injury and was replaced by Fergus Wilson, who moved to his usual right wing position with Kieran Dolaghan taking over from Francois at outside centre.
Already it was clear that Cantabs scrum was dominating the set piece and when another Finlay penalty reached the left hand corner, pushing Thurston back, the lineout saw Rich Ford secure the ball and when Thurston offended again, Danny Richards opted for the scrum and benefitted immediately as Cantabs shoved the opposition pack into their dead ball area, giving our No 8 an easy try at the back of the scrum. This time Finlay converted to make it 12 - 0.
Fergus had a couple of surging runs down the right wing and Cantabs continued to dominate.The penalty count was also racking up against Thurston, as they desperately tried to counter the rampant Cantabs backs. Finlay hit the corner again, but Thurston again cleared the danger. Luke Farrow went close when he caught the clearing kick and was penalised for not releasing when the support was not up quick enough. The kick from Thurston looked to be harmless as it fell between two Cantabs backs on half way, but a vicious bounce deceived both of them, a Thurston player hacked the bouncing ball and it appeared to be going into touch on our 10m line, but another strange bounce brought it back in field and straight into the arms of a Thurston man. He was left clear and ran in under the posts; the first try we had conceded in five games, and with an easy conversion the score was 12 - 7.
Finlay kicked deep from the restart and immediately Thurston were under pressure as the blue and white vests were into the opposition 22. Yet another penalty, Ollie Townsend took a quick tap and Finn Morrison stormed towards the try line. The ball was adjudged held up and Cantabs awarded a 5m scrum. No problem for the pack and with Danny holding the ball in, he shifted his body for Ollie to pick up and score at ease. Finlay again converted; 19 - 7.
Next try soon followed and was set up by Luke on the left wing, who rapidly made ground slipping past the first defender, drew the next tackle and passed inside to Ollie, he passed back outside to Rich Ford, who promptly passed back inside to the supporting Pete Collins who scored to the left of the posts. One of the best tries seen this season, and after twenty minutes of play, Cantabs had their try bonus point and a 24 - 7 lead.
Thurston were at this stage under a huge amount of pressure as time and again Jos Crush set the backs in motion, play moving back and forward across the field, to the bemusement of the opposition. Cantabs were soon well into the 22, when we gained a scrum ten metres out. There was no stopping the scrum again, and although Danny appeared to juggle the ball on the ground, he got his second try of the game with the Thurston pack in total disarray. Finlay made the score 31 - 7. For the final ten minutes of the first half there was no further score and indeed Thurston came back into the game strongly, and seemed to be gaining confidence.
No changes from Glen at half time, and Thurston certainly continued to take the game to Cantabs. Some determined running, some missed tackles and a series of penalties for Thurston, kept the play inside the Cantabs 22 for long periods, and it took some determined defensive work to deny the opposition a try. When Cantabs did get possession they tended to hand the ball back to Thurston before too long. Rich Ford gave way to Ed Foster and Isaia Barbieri, having dominated his opposite number up front, was replaced by Tim Kirkconel. The very next scrum showed the Thurston front row that things were not going to get easier for them! Tom Bailey now started to show just how strong he is with the ball in hand. Time after time he ran the ball out of defence back at the opposition, through tackle after tackle, and sometimes dragging a tackler in his wake. I recall one such instance when with a man hanging on to his shorts and his right boot left in the mud, he was till moving forward. Thurston were increasing in confidence though and had a series of tap penalties deep inside our 22, but Cantabs remained firm. Sir was now awarding Thurston all the penalties, and after some back chat Cantabs were pushed right back to their try line. That seemed to be the moment the pendulum swung back to Cantabs. The Cantabs defence remained firm and the 15 minute spell of pressure from the opposition had finally been broken.
For the last 20 minutes Rich and Isaia, were on for Perksy and Pete Collins and Cantabs started to make scoring opportunities again. We were denied a couple of tries by desperate Thurston tackling, and Sir denied Finlay a try when the final pass was adjudged forward, perhaps harshly. But the try had to come as Cantabs started to dominate again. We won a scrum against the head, right under the posts, and with Thurston expecting a drive from the pack, Ollie shifted the ball to Jos, who found Kieran in space, and he scored at ease to the right of the posts; 38 - 7.
Thurston's restart kick went into touch on the full, and our scrum set up another attack. Thurston defended that but in their attempts to set up a passing move on halfway, a pass was intercepted by Kieran, and he galloped in under the posts; 45 - 7. Cantabs were now unstoppable and looking for a half century of points, as Kieran was denied his hat trick with a tackle just a metre out from the try line. Tom Bailey and Finn both had good runs, but the final score did come. Thurston were on the attack, one of the opposition tried to kick over our defence but only succeeded in thumping the ball straight at our Full-back. Finlay somehow held onto the ball and passed it out to the left from our 22. The ball moved right across the line, with the final pass finding Luke wide on the left. He high stepped two tackles, and just avoided the touchline, running in from the halfway line to score in the corner. So, just like last week against Thetford, he finally got his just reward for an outstanding display of wing play. With Finlay receiving treatment, Ollie it was who converted from the touchline.
Final score 52 - 7.
Apart from a half hour spell in the middle of the game, Cantabs dominated and the members saw some great rugby from a squad without any obvious weaknesses. Jos Crush showed some good touches, our pack is awesome this season, and with so many tries being scored it is easy to forget the unselfish work that that Jonny and Ed put in with defensive tackles. It is our defence that is allowing our backs the opportunities to make tries. Only 43 points conceded in the last 7 games and 392 scored.Tom Bailey was rightly named man of the match.
No game for the1st XV next week, with the next match away to Woodbridge on 7th December, before the final game of the year against local rivals Ely on the 14th.
1 Isaia Barbieri, 2 Tom Bailey, 3 Jon Perks, 4 Jonny Heaver, 5 Richard Ford,
6 Pete Collins, 7 Finn Morrison, 8 Danny Richards (capt), 9 Ollie Townsend, 10 Jos Crush,
11 Luke Farrow, 12 Adam Fastnedge, 13 Francois Eve, 14 Kieran Dolaghan, 15 Finlay Laing,
16 Tim Kirkconel, 17 Ed Foster, 18 Fergus Wilson.