Our 1st XV travelled to third place Chelmsford expecting a tough game, with our hosts trying to avenge that 26 to 24 defeat last October. A win for Cantabs would probably see us leapfrog our opponents in the league; but perhaps that was wishful thinking. The squad was much changed, ten personnel who played in that October game had disappeared from the final teamsheet, such is the state of our current injury list.
However, Rich Ford was back at No 8 having recovered from a hand injury. Ollie Townsend's younger brother was making his club debut at openside, with Finn Morrison moving to outside centre! Ben Newman and Ed Foster also return from injury. Our front row was completely different from the previous game against Wanstead. Captain Tom Bailey and the evergreen Jonny Heaver were in as makeshift props for another man making his debut in the 1st XV at hooker, Thomas Barnes. On the bench two further1st team debuts for A Other and William Mason.
There was a strong wind blowing behind Cantabs as they kicked off down the slope towards the clubhouse on a pitch that had been recently rolled and spiked. Cantabs spurned the chance of three points early on, going for the left hand corner when three points were probably a given from 30m in front of goal. We won the lineout but promptly knocked on when the ball was shifted out to the backs. We took the scrum, but Fergus took a bad knock to the head as he tried to make ground and he received extended treatment.
It was already clear that Chelmsford had some more than adequate runners out wide, particularly on the left and Cantabs were already getting stretched. Our tackling was good, but the Chelmsford back row were very quick to the breakdown and started to win turnovers. Jos just failed to find touch inside the Chelmsford 22 with a huge kick into the left hand corner, with the ball bouncing the wrong way and going dead. So play was brought back to our 22, where Cantabs briefly weathered the storm with another scrum won against the head, but lost possession on halfway. The Chelmsford huge 2nd row ran from half way, breaking through a couple of tackles, and finally scored under the posts; 7 - 0 after 17 minutes. To add to our woes, Alan Barker left the field with a bad knock to the head, and Rowan Haines replaced him.
Inevitably, the second score followed quite quickly and this time it did come down the left when the home side that had stretched us wide and scored in the corner; 12 - 0. Jos kicked long again and this time got it right. We won the lineout and when the ensuing maul was deliberately pulled down we had a chance to score from a lineout 7m out, but despite Tom Bailey's effort, Sir called "held up" and Chelmsford's drop out found touch.
Our scrum was performing exceptionally well, with Tom Barnes out hooking his opposite number; we were taking all our ball at the lineouts and winning the odd Chelmsford lineout, but our kicking was not always taking advantage of the wind and slope, whereas the opposition's flyhalf hardly missed touch into the wind.
Chelmsford were on top, and were dealing well with our rare attacks, for their part the home side were the more dangerous, but the next score gave us some hope. Tom Bailey set up the play with a typical drive through the middle and for once Ollie and the backs got it right, swinging the ball out to the left where Lew Jones outpaced the cover defence to score at the flag. Finlay's kick from the touchline was immaculate; 12 - 7, and we were back in it as the half time whistle blew. Fergus did not come out for the second half, still feeling the effects of that knock to the head, and Will Mason took the field for the second half.
It took us fully ten minutes to actually get into the Chelmsford half and inevitably it was from a Finn Morrison run, but he became isolated and the home side flankers were there to win the penalty. So the game progressed, Cantabs defending like heros and occasionally giving the home side a fright or two as we threatened. Chelmsford messed up attack after attack, but passing was never easy in the wind and Cantabs were always in their faces. Lew Jones made a great tackle to stop their winger. However, the pressure and the immaculate kicking from their flyhalf finally gave them the chance as we reached the last 15 minutes. We were caught in possession, their man hit the right hand corner. The catch and drive did the job; 17 -7. Luke was replaced by A Other.
The next Chelmsford try followed nearly immediately and went again to the left winger after some slick passing, and their No 10 copied Finlay's earlier effort, hitting the conversion up high and letting the wind carry the ball between the uprights; 24 - 7. Finn Morrison did make one more sortie into the opposition 22, but never got up from the tackle for three or four minutes and had to be helped from the field, bringing Luke back on for the final few minutes.
There was just enough time for the Chelmsford man of the match, the flyhalf, to run into the Cantabs 22, evade all our attempts to tackle and swerve around our last man to score ten metres to the right of the posts. Final score 31 - 7.
Our lads never stopped tackling and held out until the last ten minutes. Ed Foster and Rich Ford won lots of good ball in the lineout, an area that Chelmsford had excelled at in the first game, and our new hooker had a great game in the scrums, where again we dominated the home side. However we lost the game in the loose, and were punished by their flyhalf - its not much fun running back forty metres time and again. With three more bad injuries, how we are going to get a team out for next week's home tie in the Cambs Cup against Cambridge, is anyone's guess.
1 Jonny Heaver, 2 Thomas Barnes, 3 Tom Bailey (capt), 4 Simon New, 5 Ed Foster, 6 Fergus Austin, 7 Luke Townsend, 8 Rich Ford, 9 Ollie Townsend, 10 Jos Crush, 11 Lew Jones, 12 Alan Barker, 13 Finn Morrison,
14 Ben Newman, 15 Finlay Laing, 16 , 17 William Mason, 18 Rowan Haines.