National Plate Competition; Round 5
Henley Colts 13 Cambridge Colts 15
Cambridge Try scorers: Michael Brennan, Aston Cox
Cambridge Conversion: Josh Gray
Cambridge Penalty: Josh Gray
Leaving behind snowy and sodden Cambridge behind the colts climbed onto the "battle bus" for the 2 hour journey to Henley and a game in the last 16 of the National Plate Competition. The coaches will admit that they faced this game with a degree of trepidation, partly because Henley have a good reputation as a well organised and very competitive side and secondly the loss of key players necessitating having to play people in different positions or ask people to play through injuries. Illness did for George Knowles and Callum Austen ( borrowed from the U17, thanks as always) at the last minute, Hugh Pritchard is out for the rest of the season, Bas Janssen was grabbing an outstanding opportunity not to be missed and Oli Benham was away due to a pre planned social event. However we welcomed back Jake Kelling missing since before Christmas due to a shoulder injury and also borrowed Euan Dingwall from the U17(again our thanks to Pierre and Simon).
Henley's ground is a pretty one and the pitch was in much better condition than the one we left behind in Cambridge, conditions were dry though the wind was cold. Spectators commented that the stand provided good protection. The welcome and organisation from Mark and Kevin was first class and the bar and catering staff were excellent. The whole team and travelling support would like to thank Henley for their off field welcome. Naturally it was not as welcoming on the pitch, but this is a cup competition! Both sides then watched the England game in the clubhouse afterwards. Andrew Graham took charge in the middle and his clear instructions and decision making led to an enthralling game to watch for the spectators, we thank him very much for his time and efforts.
With Henley's namesake Hawks, red kites actually, circling the ground Cambridge kicked off into the wind. The first period was very even as both sides probed hard at defences. As mentioned earlier the pitch was in good condition partly due to the sandy nature of the soil, however that does mean it attracts rabbits and there were some areas of 'scrapes' which claimed players on both sides. Harry Rhodes turned his ankle in one in the 5th minute and James O'Brien took his place very ably, being prominent both in attack carrying the ball hard and in defense with some excellent cover tackling, one which saved a certain try!
Cambridge scored first with Michael Brennan driving through 3 tacklers to touchdown near the right hand touch line. Josh Gray put the conversion over effortlessly.
Henley 0 Cambridge 7
Henley then earned a penalty after a ruck infringement after good Cambridge defence, to put their first points on the board.
Henley 3 Cambridge 7
In a physical encounter, especially at the breakdown, Cambridge held their own, and building on the conversations on the bus and pre game re line speed, we exerted a lot of defensive pressure forcing dropped balls and turnovers. It was from one of those that the next Cambridge score came; a kick over the defensive line which the Henley defender failed to gather cleanly on the edge of his 22, Aston Cox chasing the kick then hacked through and collected the ball to score, Josh pushed the conversion wide.
Henley 3 Cambridge 12
Henley then exerted pressure on the Cambridge line and good cover defense and alignment kept them out until lack of numbers on the right told and a try was scored in the corner. The conversion was missed.
Half time: Henley 8 Cambridge 12
The second half was at times a little scrappy with few clear chances to either side. When awarded a penalty early in the half Cambridge "took the points" with Josh Gray putting the kick over.
Henley 8 Cambridge 15
The rest of the half saw Henley strive to get close and good cover defense from Callum Traynor, Aston Cox, and Matt Green dealt with the long kicks while the back row and the rest of the forwards created turnovers galore.
However as Henley pushed for a score they finally stole the ball in a ruck 5m from the line and went over 3 minutes from time. The conversion hit the bar and bounced back.
Henley 13 Cambridge 15
There was little time left for any further meaningful attacks as Cambridge cut down the Henley strong runners at their ankles and jackled for the ball.
Full time: Henley 13 Cambridge 15.
Our thanks to all the travelling support, to the squad players, the parents who travelled on the coach or separately. And especially to Benoit, who has now added 'twittering' the scores to his excellent match photography activities.
As we mentioned above, the missing players in the squad had us concerned entering a cup game in this stage of the competition. However everyone stepped up and played their part in this victory. Captain James Travers moving to outside centre was immense in defence creating numerous turnovers. The front five, starters and subs provided good ball all game at the scrum and Michael Payne, Rhys Roberts and Conor Gracey worked well to secure ball at the line out and capture theirs.
Defensively this was a massive team effort, if they hadn't stood up to the challenge then they could have been overrun, but unlike earlier games in the season the tackling was low and hard cutting down strike runners before they could make yards. The contribution of the back 3 and Callum in covering kicks has already been mentioned.
So a "good day out" we move into the last 8 of this competition where new challenges from teams we've not met before await.
Well done guys.