Cantabs went to Southwold in style this week, courtesy of a grant from East West Rail, who financed a very special team coach for the journey. Alex Bentley was making his debut for the 1st XV, and we welcomed back Tom Stace, Rich Ford, James McCaskie, Dean James and Finlay Laing to the squad.
Usually when we play at Southwold the snow and rain are blowing horizontally into our faces, but this was a breathless surreal Southwold; three layers of clothing less than the norm were required as a very large Cantabs support arrived at the touchline for the start of the match.
Southwold kicked off with the North Sea at their backs and with the advantage of a slight slope. Before we had got hold of the ball, Cantabs were caught offside and their No 10 was kicking for goal from our ten metre line; 3 - 0 to the home side. Cantabs then demonstrated their superior scrummaging, but the score remained unaltered. All the pressure was from the men in blue, with Morrison taking all the crash balls. We threw a crooked lineout on eight metres then were penalised for a scrum infringement with the try-line beckoning. Another chance went begging when we were unable to ground the ball from a rolling maul. Then James hayward kicked over the defence, gathered the bouncing ball, went for the line, hesitated and went again, diving in at the corner. A try we all thought, but Sir denied the score citing a suspect grounding. In the attempt James suffered a pulled hamstring and sought treatment. Deano replaced him and we all hoped James would make it back at some stage, but that proved not to be the case. Ollie moved to fly-half. Southwold kicked long and Perksy's tackle was adjudged dangerous. Another penalty, this time from the halfway line, was again good, and despite Cantabs having made all the running, and all the pressing, we were behind at 6 - 0, after eighteen minutes.
Cantabs continued to press, Ollie Townsend broke clear and made forty metres but his pass out to the left wing was forward and the move came to nothing again. Cantabs won the ball back straight away, and Francois went close. Cantabs then won a lineout in the left hand corner, the rolling maul rumbled forwards and Tom Bailey put us on the scoresheet with a try towards the left hand corner. Finlay Laing's kick was good and we were in front for the first time at 7 - 6.
Ollie again made a break, again a full forty metres but the support was not strong enough and the move broke down. Southwold were struggling to hold onto the resultant scrum, but under huge pressure broke away and with some good strong running and accurate passing found their way into the Cantabs half. We were overstretched on the right and it took a desperate tackle from Finn Morrison to stop the move in our left hand corner. Sir adjudged his tackle marginally too desperate and illegal; Finn was off for ten minutes. From the penalty to the corner and a successful catch, Southwold spread the play out quickly across the pitch to the left and three passes later their left winger dived in at the corner. This time the kick faded past the wrong side of the post, but the Suffolk men were ahead at 11 - 7 after 32 minutes.
Cantabs came back at Southwold and although we lost the ball, some wild passing from the home side out to left when they had an overlap, allowed James McCaskie to tackle his opposite winger into touch, and what was a good chance for the home side suddenly became a better opportunity for Cantabs in a great position. James forced the error and our lineout, secured the ball, we mauled the ball well into the 22 but knocked on. Suddenly Southwold were defending a scrum eight metres out. Sir called 30 seconds left, our front row put on the pressure, and although their No 8 got his hands on the ball, the retreating scrum put him under huge pressure and the ball came loose. Deano was on it like a flash, twisted and turned and made the try line with his dive; 12 - 11 at half time.
Finn Morrison was back on after the break, but Rich Ford came off just after the restart with a hand injury, bringing Fergus Austin into the game. Then Isaia underwent extensive treatment on his neck, but had to make way for Ben Tozer. No change with the first two scrums, Cantabs were entirely dominant despite the change to the front row. Fergus was also soon in the action with a couple of surging runs and with Jonny Heaver and Tom Stace, making life very difficult for Southwold to get any rhythm at every breakdown, Cantabs were denying their opposition any clear-cut opportunities to make ground. Our flankers were up on the Southwold line very quickly, and forcing errors, but with the penalty count against us at a ratio of three to one against, we too were finding progress difficult.
At the next scrum, outside the Southwold 22, we won possession and Finn Morrison launched himself at their defence, bursting through the first tackle, as usual, and almost made the try line. He laid the ball back, Deano, gave Tom Bailey the first crack, he was just short, but the next pass from our scrum half met Perksy on the charge and he scored his first try of the season; 17 - 11. Cantabs were now dominant, this time Alan Barker broke the line, and Southwold were penalised at the ruck. Finlay kicked superbly into the left hand corner, Ford won the lineout, the maul got to the try-line, The ball was popped up to a charging Perks, he was stopped at the line, but our second crash ball was taken over by Tom Bailey. This time Finlay made no mistake with the conversion and Cantabs were clear at 24 - 11.
At this point Southwold were hanging on and our left winger Alex Bentley, was coming more into the game, he followed up on a hack forward, kicked ahead again into space on the edge of the 22, but was hacked down by a football tackle from behind with the try line beckoning. Only result was a penalty to Cantabs, when perhaps a card could have been shown. Finlay's penalty found the line, and from the resultant maul on 5m, Deano scored his second try, only to find it ruled out when Sir unravelled the pile of bodies, that had clearly arrived after the grounding.
From the drop-out under the posts Cantabs stormed forward, drew the penalty and Finlay slotted it home; 27 - 11, and it was practically game over. Francois caught the restart kick and went off on another run, and was tackled as he released the ball to kick it over the defence; no penalty but Southwold were still under pressure. Finlay had to retire from the game with a fractured cheekbone, following a "collision" with an opponents forehead. An injury which we later found out now requires a visit to an eye specialist. The Club wishes our full back a speedy recovery and our hopes are with him for a good outcome. This unfortunate injury brought Rich Ford back onto the left wing, with James moving to fullback. All these changes rather destroyed our rhythm and wave after wave of Southwold runners eventually broke through the Cantabs defence to score at the posts; 27 - 18 with the kick.
Alex then kicked long towards the left hand corner, from within his own half, we knocked on and Southwold were defending a scrum five metres out. They won the scrum, just, but Jonny Heaver was amongst them and and Simon New forced the ball to pop out, Bailey was on it like a flash and at full stretch grounded the ball for his hat trick of tries. Alan Barker made the conversion and we were up to 34-18.
Last try of the game went to Southwold, after another extended period of pressure, but by then the game was beyond them. Final score: 34- 23, and another bonus point win, our seventh in a row, which puts us well in contention in the top five with a game in hand. The travelling supporters made Dean James man of the match. Another bonus point win against Saffron Walden next week, will take us into the realms of dreamland. Get down to Henham next Saturday, when we try to make amends for that shocking one point defeat we suffered in the second game of the season.
Tries: Tom Bailey 3, Dean James, Jon Perks
Conversions: Finlay Laing 2, Alan Barker
Penalty: Finlay Laing
1 Isaia Barbieri, 2 Tom Bailey (capt), 3 Jon Perks, 4 Tom Stace, 5 Jonny Heaver, 6 Simon New, 7 Finn Morrison,
8 Richard Ford, 9 Ollie Townsend,10 James Hayward, 11 Alexander Bentley, 12 Alan Barker, 13 Francois Eve,
14 James McCaskie, 15 Finlay Laing, 16 Ben Tozer, 17 Fergus Austin, 18 Dean James.