7 January was meant to be a day of firsts. The first league outing of the New Year. The first real exhibition of the fancy new electronic scoreboard. The first trip to Fortress Cow Lane for Canterbury. And the first loss of the season for the visitors...pity it didn't all go according to plan.
The two losses before Christmas had dented our Top Four ambitions. But we knew we had the talent and ability to cause Canterbury problems. We were missing some key figures through injury and illness but so were the visitors.
There was another first for us on the day - an Italian referee. A few eyebrows raised when he came in to check our studs - his jeans so tight you could tell his religion.
A bumper crowd packed The Step End and we did not disappoint. We started well, showing no fear or ounce of respect to the visitors. We matched they powerful pack with aggressive and relentless defence. Canterbury had to settle for an early penalty after wave-on-wave of fruitless attacks.
In a bizarre turn straight from a Year 6 school match, the visitors gathered under their posts as we lined up a penalty. But Capt'n Morgan hadn't signalled for the posts, giving new recruit Scotty 'Too Hotty' Browne a free run to the line and the lead.
Canterbury were not at their best, playing a tight, pick-and-go style rather than their usual free-flowing game. However, our discipline let us down. We gifted them points and field position and were punished accordingly. The score at half time was 23-7.
|William Mateai makes a break against Canterbury|
We pushed hard in their 22 and were pressing for the score to take the lead. But unfortunately our well of good fortune had dried up. A hair's breadth from glory and ever-present Canterbury Number 8 Baars took a gamble and went for the interception. As he touched down to score at the other end, we could start to feel the game slip away.
Despite a late try by Marlen Walker, a further Baars try had put the game out of reach. It had been an excellent performance but we felt we deserved at least something from the game. No losing bonus point meant it was a lot of effort for no reward.
The game against Luton was a very different beast. We approached the match with cautious optimism. Yes we had lost three on the bounce but the Canterbury game had restoked our fire. The only danger was letting the previous games' good work go to waste. It would need to be another big performance - nothing taken for granted.
And it appears nerves got the better of us initially. A mix up from the restart gifted them the possession. With our heads still spinning, the home side crashed over in the corner from a driven lineout.
This was the wake up call we needed and our defensive wall rebuilt itself. Sure enough, once we rediscovered our basic phase play, Tommy Newton pulled the scores level. But our scrums were still an issue.
With a make-shift Second Row of Slates and Hixy, we lacked weight and struggled all day at scrum time. Our lighter pack proved more mobile and we were able to keep hold of possession but something wasn't quite clicking. Our execution was not of its usual standard and it wasn't until the end of the half when the pressure finally told.
A scrum against the head was quickly spun wide and the Mateai Express crashed over in the corner. Our defensive strength also forced a score, Scotty Too Hotty scored from his own charge down to extend the lead to 18-5 at half time.
Predictably, Luton stepped up their work rate in the second half. They held onto the ball for long periods of time but our defence held true - Papa Bear Lamden and JP in the Centres proved particularly miserly. The home side did pull one score back but their ill discipline cost them.
Two yellow cards meant we were always in control. We left it late to secure the bonus point. I picked blind from a scrum in their 22 and just as the Scrum Half was about to bundle me into touch, a deft backhand flick gave Rob Baldwin a clear line...it definitely wasn't a flukey, desperate,last ditch effort!
The win has set up an interesting few weeks. This is shaping up to be an exciting season which will hopefully come down to the wire. We are still very much in the hunt for that Top Four finish and Civil Service will be the first major test of our new resolve.