A fine sunny day and a the 4G pitch at Shelford suggested a fast game, and the spectators at Shelford were not disappointed.
Cantabs kicked off, and the early exchanges featured powerful carrying from both teams. The Cantabs pack offered themselves consistently, with David and Ryan leading the way. A reversed penalty against Shelford for backchat soon gave James first shot at goal. He narrowly missed, but was confident enough to take another attempt 1 minute later from a similar position. This time he made no mistake. 3-0 to Cantabs.
Following the kickoff, the strong carrying returned from the Cantabs pack as they ran onto the ball at pace. Holes inevitably appeared in the Shelford defence, and Dan S spotted one and showed great reactions and pace to streak under the posts from halfway. 10-0 to Cantabs.
Dan took a seatbelt tackle in the act of scoring, so unusually play restarted with a Cantabs penalty from halfway. The ball drifted forwards from the resulting lineout, which was typical of the early stages as both sides struggled to get clean line out ball to make the most of the flurry of penalties awarded.
Defences remained resolute in the face of determined carrying, and the game became more attritional. Ferg came on at 9 early after Gary became the first of a few to take a knock on the unforgiving surface. Eventually it was Shelford who put enough phases together to sneak over after a line out in the far corner. The conversion was missed, and it was 10-5 to Cantabs.
Soon after the kickoff, the Cantabs line out maul got to work and only a technical breakdown infringement stopped a certain score. Shelford were locked in their half, however, and the stranglehold from Cantabs’ defensive line speed soon forced more attacking chances with a flowing backs move from clean line out ball allowing Fin and James to find space down the left.
Eventually the pressure told, with Shelford repeatedly forced to kick to an organised Cantabs back three after failing to run it out of their half. The game opened up, and after Cantabs were almost away after Dan Soanes broke out the goose step, Charlie Hargreaves was rewarded for his eagerness in defence and was unleashed to score down the right wing on a kick return. James added the extras from the far corner, and it was 17-5 to Cantabs.
Shelford came back spitting from the kickoff, and were quickly in the Cantabs 22. Harry performed a heroic strip in defence one metre from his own line, but Shelford were under advantage and scored from the resulting quick tap, and to make matters worse for Cantabs Harry was forced off with an injury from his final act of the day.
Shelford stayed in their purple patch, their backs and forward combining to offload past a stretched and finally overwhelmed Cantabs scramble defence. They scored under the posts, but a determined Dan Soanes charge down made sure Cantabs kept a 17-15 lead.
Pressure at the ruck after the kickoff from Ben Tozer forced a Shelford penalty and finally broke the hosts’ momentum, though James’ shot from distance drifted just wide. Cantabs worked hard to contain Shelford’s offloading game, with Dan supporting his pack’s efforts by tackling consistently from 10.
Shelford won a penalty in front of the Cantabs sticks following a sneaky knockdown on the 9’s hands from Fin (who appeared to have the skills to charm his way out of a yellow). The home team, clearly uncertain over whether they could break the Cantabs line, motioned to the posts. But they quickly went for a scrum instead after their own supporters shouted some very ungentlemanly words of advice (much to the outrage of their club management). Perhaps they should have stuck with their original decision, because Cantabs held resolute to keep a lead up to half time.
Cantabs burst out of the blocks in the second half, winning a breakdown penalty then attacking with a quick tap from the ever-sprightly David and some hard running from the forwards. The match soon became a battle of scrums and kicks, which resulted in a more cautious Shelford opting to take a shot in front of the posts as the home crowd murmured its sheepish approval. The result was still the same, however, as the kick pulled wide.
The Cantabs lineout began to purr as Charlie and his lifters first forced a turnover off Shelford ball then won clean possession for Cantabs. The referee was so impressed he wanted to see it again, so awarded Shelford a penalty in the Cantabs 22. This time they finally crossed after a few phases. 22-17 to Shelford.
At this point, yours truly was called up to run touch, so less detail is available. Cantabs came back in anger, with the maul looking good once again. Only another breakdown infringement cost a likely try. Cantabs started taking control of the breakdown and the attack started to take shape. The reward was a penalty knocked over by James. The deficit was narrowed to 2 points. 22-20 to Shelford.
Soon the breakdown became a warzone, and counterrucks and jackals were the order of the day. Shelford crossed, but a superb last ditch tackle from Dan S stopped the ball from being grounded. A rattled Shelford chatted back again, and Cantabs cleared their lines.
As the clock ticked down, nerves, scrums and defence dominated the game. Eventually Shelford found a way through the depleted Cantabs wall, to give them some breathing room going into the last few minutes. 29-20 to Shelford.
A proud Cantabs would have the final say, however, as James produced a classy chip and regather, before being illegally bodychecked as he tried to repeat the trick to beat the fullback. Cantabs gave a last roar of defiance, culminating in David burrowing over as the clock turned red. Final score 36-25 to Shelford.
Man of the Match: Dan Soanes for a try, a trysaving tackle, a chargedown, and constantly putting his face where it hurt. Credit goes to George too for stepping in at short notice.
Match report by Noah Poulson