Thetford were the visitors to Sedley Taylor Road, in this rearranged fixture. Big changes were required to our back row, with No 8 and captain Danny Richards, openside Finn Morrison and blindside Peter Collins, all unavailable.
The evergreen Rich Ford took over at No 8, we had Harry Hill (minus the big collar) and Tim Kirkconel on the flanks. But the front five had that familiar look and gave the Cantabs faithful a nice warm feeling. James hayward was back at fly-half, and this time Jos crush was in at inside centre, as Glen tried out another backs combination.
The pitch was soft, after the previous week's deluge, but with no wind whatsoever, it was ideal for another bruising encounter with our Norfolk neighbours. Cantabs kicked off towards the railway, but Thetford made all the early running, and certainly seemed keen to run at us from the outset. Two early penalties to the visitors pushed us back towards our 22, and it took a scrum against the head to win the ball back. James Hayward instigated a lovely backs passing move from the left right over to the right wing. But the final pass to Fergus Wilson on the touchline was adjudged forward and the threat had gone. We then contrived to lose two lineouts and Thetford moved back onto the attack. Cantabs then offended yet again and Thetford had a shot at goal from 30 metres out, but the kick fell short. Cantabs ran the ball out, then Hayward kicked long and with the help of two great tackles from Harry Hill, Thetford were halted from running the ball back. Thetford's tackling was aggressive and they were forcing Cantabs errors. Then, the first score and it went to the Norfolk men, and it was well deserved from the territorial advantage they had enjoyed in the first twelve minutes. A long kick down the left wing turned our defence, and with the help of a somewhat fortunate bounce, their left winger was able to secure the ball and score in the corner. This time the kick was long and true; 0 - 7 and Cantabs needed to wake up.
Cantabs scrum was now giving the Thetford pack a lot to think about and we drew the penalty as they broke up prematurely. A kick to the corner on the right, Ford won the ball, and Ollie fed the backs. Hayward's long pass out to the left was on the money with Fergus taking advantage, and he finished the move with a dive into the corner. Finlay's kick from the touchline was immaculate; 7 - 7 and Thetford's lead had only lasted five minutes. The restart kick was plucked out of the air by a "soaring" Jonny Heaver, he found Perksy on the right hand touchline, and our prop made twenty metres before he was halted, the next phase saw Adam Fastnedge make the break through the centre, he passed inside to Jos Crush, up in support, he scored under the posts and Finlay added the extra; 14 - 7 after 20 minutes.
The next restart found touch, but our lineout to the front saw Tom Bailey making ground down the right dragging players behind him. The ball was shifted across to the left, Fergus had a clear overlap, but Finlay chose to step inside before passing and his final pass back out to Fergus could not be gathered. Sir brought us back for a penalty, James kicked to the left hand corner and from the maul, Tom Bailey emerged as a human battering ram yet again, but his attempt was held up over the line. Well, Rich Ford was never going to miss out on his pack's efforts. The scrum duly obliged and all Rich had to do was ground the ball; 21 - 7 with the Finlay conversion. Cantabs then went close again, but Fergus lost the ball in his attempt to score, and Thetford dropped out from their 22, James Hayward ran the ball back and a typical Hayward dink through into space saw him nearly capitalise, but the Thetford defender beat him to it.
Thetford were now defending desperately, and again we went close as Bailey and Hayward combined. Tom was held up, then a barnstorming drive from Jonny Heaver saw Harry Hill held up over the line under the posts. The resulting five metre scrum again did its job, Rich Ford again taking advantage. Somehow Finlay sliced his kick out of the mud, but at 26 - 7, Cantabs had secured their try bonus point for the fifteenth game in a row. Another chance came to Fergus, but the final pass to him was forward, and so the half closed with no further score.
The second half started much as the first half had. A rejuvenated Thetford side pressing hard again and tackling like demons. For five minutes they certainly threatened and Cantabs were forced to dig deep. Twice we looked to have stretched Thetford down the left wing, and twice a try seemed a formality, but the final pass was always lacking or we knocked on, and now Cantabs were giving away far too many penalties, allowing Thetford the chance to clear time and time again. A quarter of an hour had passed, when Glen brought on Ben Tozer and Charlie Searle for Ed and Isaia. Perksy made a couple of good breaks down the right wing, and Tom Bailey was still bulldozing his way through defenders, but our backs moves were spoilt by poor handling or poor decision making when it came to the final pass. Clearly, the pack was going to be our best chance of further scores. And so it proved, with the next score coming from a catch and drive, and Rich Ford scoring his third try to make it 33- 7, as Finlay added the extras.
Henri Cherrington came on for Finlay and the forwards were shuffled to keep the opposition on their toes. Cantabs were now making all the running, but the tries would not come. Finally, Ollie took things into his own hands, and darted forward from a ruck, from fifteen metres out to score to the right of the posts; 38 - 7, this one was unconverted.
Cantabs scored again, and yet again it was Ford with his fourth try from way out (well two metres). James found his kicking boots to make it 45 - 7. But the final score went to the opposition. Two penalties saw Thetford deep inside our half. Their big men continued to batter away at our line for the last three minutes. Thetford were awarded a penalty and took a tap from five metres out and one of their forwards crashed over the line in the corner to make the final score 45 - 12.
Adam's man of the match was Richard Ford, my man of the match was Tom Bailey, it had to be a forward this time, and I know Rich Ford makes the headlines with his four tries, but they were mostly came as a result of great scrummaging. So, although Rich was good in the loose as well, Tom Bailey made a lot of runs and a lot of hard yards and gets my vote.
Four games to go in the league and Cantabs just have to win them all to be champions. Ely away and West Norfolk at Sedley Taylor Road in the last two matches will be the crucial games, and we will need our entire squad to make it happen as inevitably there will be jobs and injuries having a say in who's available for those games.
to be continued....
1 Isaia Barbieri, 2 Tom Bailey, 3 Jon Perks (capt), 4 Ed Foster, 5 Jonny Heaver,
6 Tim Kirkconel, 7 Harry Hill, 8 Richard Ford, 9 Ollie Townsend, 10 James Hayward,
11 Ben Newman, 12 Jos Crush, 13 Adam Fastnedge (capt), 14 Fergus Wilson, 15 Finlay Laing,
16 Ben Tozer, 17 Charles Searle, 18 Henri Cherrington.