James Hayward and Finlay Laing were both ruled out following injuries sustained at Southwold last week.
Covid has also taken its toll on the club, with our 2nd XV game against Renegades postponed until later in the season. Danny Richards, Isaia Barbieri, Tom Stace, Elliot Baines, Jos Crush and Ed Taylor were also missing, but such is the strength of the Cantabs squad we still travelled hoping to avenge that early-season defeat at Sedley Taylor Road. As it happened this was one of only a handful of fixtures that took place on a Saturday when the virus had started to affect playing strength at many clubs and it was to the credit of both clubs that they wanted the match to go ahead despite absences due to the bug. It also gave us the chance to blood a youngster whose father played when I started to support Cantabs - Toby Pym who was on the bench and proud father Jamie joined the Cantabs supporters for the game. The pitch was soggy, no wind at all, and the fog was never far away as Walden kicked off down the slope.
Walden started the brighter and pushed us right back into our 22 with a very well struck kick which we could only help into touch. But Tom Bailey stole the lineout and Cantabs worked the ball to safety. Ben Newman kicked beautifully up the left touchline when the Walden fly-half failed to find touch. But we spilled the ball in the greasy conditions, as we mounted our first decent attack, and a green shirt hacked the ball towards our 22. Our cover defence was outpaced, and when he reached the ball first with his next kick, the ball and the Walden back were one when he touched down at the post; 7 - 0 to the home side.
Cantabs were already dominating the scrum and Francois Eve showed the defence a clean pair of heels as he sliced down the left, but his pass was not collected. Twice Finn Morrison was isolated at the breakdown, his speed in the loose was also too much for our forwards, and twice we had to concede penalties. But the tide was slowly turning and some of our close passing in the pack was a outstanding in the conditions. Cantabs slaughtered the Walden pack at the next scrum, drawing the penalty. Alan Barker got us into the 22 with the kick, Rich Ford brought the support in at the lineout and Ollie dummied then slid an inch perfect kick through the defence. Tom Bailey was the bravest scooping the ball up amongst the flailing feet, and dived for the line, rolling over twice to touch down to the right of the posts. Alan added the extras and we were all square after 19 minutes.
Just one minute later, James McCaskie took the ball on his ten metre line, outpaced the winger on the outside and then cut inside to beat the fullback, scoring under the posts; 7 - 14. James first ever try for the Club.
Then, Walden showed just how dangerous their backs could be, with a well worked moved on the right. Dean James stopped his man in his tracks, illegally, the Walden faithful were calling for a card, and got their wish; ten minutes in the sin bin for our No 9. Again, we were found holding on in the tackle and Sir brought us down to 13 men as Jonny Heaver joined Deano in an identical over-size coat. Cantabs were now clinging on but Walden found some width and scored in the right hand corner. This one was not converted, but Walden were back in the game at 12 - 14 after 29 minutes. A penalty to the left hand corner from Alan set up our big guys; twice Perksy went close, Francois had a go, and when we looked to have scored, Sir waved play on, and Walden kicked clear.
Cantabs then found themselves stretched again as Walden broke down the left, the final pass was forward, but the touch judge hadn't got the speed of the Walden left winger, and he was able to cut inside and scored at the post; 19 - 14 as Walden converted and the yellow cards had cost us dearly. Dean was restored to the game, Cantabs again got clear on the left through James, a rapid Francois continued the good work, taking the pass in support and then found Ollie Townsend who scored at the posts. No problem again for Alan; 19 - 21 and half-time.
Walden restarted but Cantabs were soon on the attack, Alan made the break, Dean was up in support and we thought Ben Newman had scored, but it was not given and Walden breathed again, but not for long. Cantabs had them pinned in the corner, our lineout on 5m was uncontested as Rich Ford caught and the maul was stalled, until Perksy, who had been standing off, waiting for the crash ball, then piled into the rest of our pack and there was no stopping the score; Tom Bailey taking the honours, and yet again Alan, was spot on with the conversion; 19 - 28.
Cantabs were now getting to every ruck in numbers, Dean was scorching the passes, left and right and we were totally dominant. Jonny Heaver started the next play with a quick tap penalty out of his 22. The Cantabs forwards linked with the backs, perfect rugby from Cantabs. Walden stopped the move with a deliberate knock-on, and were reduced to 14. Cantabs were now 5m out. Three penalties were awarded in quick succession, the second for pulling down the maul. Walden were then caught defending a scrum on 5m, when Dean switched play to the left, and two passes later, Cantabs had a two man overlap. Francois was not going to turn that chance down and ran round to touch down at the posts; 19 - 35. Five out of five for Alan.
Now Glen went to the bench, Ed Foster gave Jonny Heaver a break. Saffron Walden were not done, and pushed us back into our 5m area. They won a scrum but with seven men only, they were easily pushed off the ball. We spilled the ball though, and Perksy was over zealous in his attempt to win the ball back and he took a ten minute break, all square at 14 each. Jonny came back on to prop with Fergus sacrificed in the scrum. Nothing had changed, Walden still went backwards. For a full five minutes, Cantabs defended in front of their posts, and finally Walden made the error. Our scrum did the job, drew the penalty and Cantabs cleared up to the 10m line with a kick from Alan. Francois broke clear, Finn rampaged, and Cantabs were now dominant again. Our support play was exemplary, and when his ten minutes were up, Walden were delighted as Perksy joined the front row again
Dan Searle, who retired two years ago, but has played as many games as anybody for 1sts, 2nds and 3rds was on at flanker, and Cantabs spread play out to the right, where Drew Tilley scored in the right hand corner corner post. This time Alan's kick faded past the wrong side of the post, but at 19 - 40, it was game over. Last change from Glen, brought on Toby Pym for Drew Tilley, and Cantabs played out for time. Walden to their credit did not give up and the last score of the game went again to their left winger who went over in the corner.
Final score 24 - 40, and a well-deserved revenge for that late win we gifted to Walden at the start of this campaign. With that eighth bonus point win on the bounce, Cantabs retain the fifth spot in the table but we are now just one point below second and four behind league leaders Ipswich. Assuming that Covid does not put paid to our next game on 8th January, it will be against Ipswich and who knows?....
1 Ben Tozer, 2 Tom Bailey (capt), 3 Jon Perks, 4 Jonny Heaver, 5 Simon New, 6 Fergus Austin, 7 Finn Morrison,
8 Richard Ford, 9 Dean James, 10 Ollie Townsend, 11 Andrew Tilley, 12 Alan Barker, 13 Francois Eve,
14 James McCaskie, 15 Ben Newman, 16 Ed Foster, 17 Dan Searle, 18 Toby Pym.
Tries: Tom Bailey 2, James McCaskie, Francois Eve, Ollie Townsend, Drew Tilley
Conversions: Alan Barker 5