Cantabs 2s have a tradition of winning silverware and I dont intend for this season to be any different. An inspiring win at the very end of last season saw us pinching the Senior Vase from under the nose of local rivals Cambridge Exiles in the last 15 minutes of the match, but this time around we wanted to wipe them out in the first round. Cambridge however felt that they had a point to prove, still sore from last seasons defeat and having beaten us a couple of weeks ago at Granchester Road in the league.
Cantabs had a few changes from the last couple of games, with Alex BJ and Ben Tozer filling up the centre, Jules back in the pack at no. 8 and George Phillips playing his first game for the club by stepping in at loose-head prop. Warm up to the game was focused and the team were hungry to make an early impression. However 10 minutes after the whistle had blown and things were starting to go the Exiles way – some good hands and they managed to find their way over our line out wide, were our defence had thinned. This was followed shortly after by a second try, and I found myself under then posts telling the lads that this week our heads do not drop, we stay patient and we keep playing hard. With ball in hand Cambridge did look good, but we had now woken up and our defence was functioning. Laziness was not an issue this week and players were tackling well – in particular Jani, Shaggy and Harri making sure that the Exiles could not advance.
We know Cambridge have a big pack, and despite the odd shove they did get on, I was particularly pleased with how the Cantabs 8 managed the scrum situation without our usual heavyweight set piece experts. We won a couple against the head throughout the game and credit to the effort put in by all – there were a lot of scrums! Also the line out was operating effectively, the new calls and moves that we have been working on this season allowing us to retain possession and even steal a couple from the opposition. Not too long before halftime and we find ourselves running with ball in hand, shipped through to centres to Harri on the wing who made good ground before putting in an offload to...the Cambridge Winger! An easy interception for the Exiles and they waltz over the line to go into the halftime break with an increased winning margin.
Regrouping during the interval, and we pull our socks up. We now have the strong wind behind us and intend to play a territory game in the second half, pinning the opposition back to their line. While our physicality, work rate and ambition are good, we need to go back to our game plan and bully the Exiles with the Cantabs rugby we have been practicing. Bring on Alex Swart-Wilson and Tom Heaver on the wings and Doug on the flank. We spend the first ten mins battling it out with Cambridge, slowly working our way down the field before Lovett puts in a cracking kick cross-field to Harri chasing up the wing. Ball is recycled back to Lovett who races over the line and puts Cantabs firsts points on the board – followed by 2 more in the form of a brilliant conversion in tricky conditions.
We made our final changes, with Julian coming onto the wing and John O’Donnell stepping into the centre. As expected when playing in cold, wet and windy conditions, play slowed right down…scrum-lineout-scrum-scrum… and to make any further impact, we really did have to make use of the few opportunities that we got clean ball out to the backs. However, the opposition were making every effort to get up into our faces as quickly as possible and more than once I found myself asking the referee to please check the Exiles offside line – our 9 and 10 getting swallowed up all too often, despite the efforts of our back row to protect them from the set piece. We defended hard, and stopped a few tries from getting through but the Exiles were looking well drilled. They scored a few more times in the second half and the game was lost. Final score 34-7 to the hosts.
It is hard to go down to a rival ground in the cup competition and Cambridge were never going to give up their turf without a fight. I think the effort put in by Cantabs was top and the Exiles certainly left the pitch knowing they had been in a tough match. I thought Swarty made a big impact when he came on, with impressive hard running and some big hits. Also credit to Jules, who managed to walk away from smacking their snotty little fullback and gave away no penalties – a noted improvement in discipline! My man of the match was George Phillips, who had a brilliant first game for the club – he dealt well with the scrum, lifted effectively, ran hard with the ball and made his presence on the pitch known for 80 mins. Despite the effort we all put in, we did not combine our skills and implement the game plan that we set out - this has been a common problem with the team this season. I would like a little more consistency in the squad and to see all players at training. Cambridge were well drilled and credit to them for winning the game in the way they did, we now have a few things to work on before we teach them a lesson on our turf later this season.
As this was the pre-lim round of the cup, we will now be entered into the Plate competition – we re-group and work hard towards the silverware we are so hungry for!