Two good wins in one afternoon at Volac Park, as lower league opposition provided thorough tests for both Cambridge squads.
Worthing lined up against the seconds at 1:00pm, before the 1st XV entertained Leicester Lions at 3:00pm. Both fixtures provided an ideal preparation ahead of the National One season opener, which is now less than a fortnight away.
Worthing arrived well prepared and displayed serious attacking intent and were strong running with ball in hand. Ross Stewart was keen to address some defensive issues from last weekend’s victory over South Leicester, and the squad certainly seemed to have taken note.
The penalty count against the blood and sand was much lower this time out, and when Worthing attacked inside the Cambridge 22, they were kept at bay far more often than not.
Stewart said after the game; “Worthing were sharp, they attacked with width and they had some good ball-carriers in the back row. We still made a few errors that of course we don’t want to make, but under this new system we’re running it’s good in a sense to see where the cracks are.”
Offensively, Cambridge have been extremely good to watch over the last few seasons, and nothing looks to be changing on that front. Cambridge ran out 47-26 winners, scoring seven tries in the process.
However, Stewart is expecting further improvement to their offensive threat this campaign, and explained that will start with the defence; “For me this year, turnover ball will be key. Cambridge have never really had turnover ball; we’re always a great attacking threat, but turnover ball is the best and most dangerous ball to play off. If we can add that to our armoury, and genuine defence will get us the ball back, then it will be a strong weapon for us. There was a great passage of play where we got our defence right, got turnover ball and were lethal with it.”
Leicester Lions too were a solid side. They perhaps didn’t offer as much threat as Worthing pushing forward, but they certainly provided a sterner test defensively, as Cambridge repeatedly tried to break them down.
The sternness of the test was evident when noticing the sides went into halftime at 7-7 after Cambridge had dominated much of the territory and possession. However, Cambridge turned on the afterburners and found it much more comfortable in the second-half, and ended up runaway victors, by 33-7.
There were some brilliant moves from the blood and sand as the game neared its conclusion, and some highlight-reel tries were scored. Clever line-running, quick, subtle changes of direction, and some well-timed offloads tore Leicester apart as Cambridge ramped up the pressure. Ben Penfold was also extremely proficient with the boot, keeping the blood and sand in full control of the contest, both from out of the hand and from the tee.
Following the win, coach Simon Leader explained; “Leicester gave us a tough game, that’s exactly what we wanted, perfect for preseason. We knew that with Jack Heald (Cambridge defence coach last season) as their coach, that he’d come here with a plan against us and he certainly did. I felt we combated that really well, and the work we’ve put in developing our shape; everyone fulfilling a role, I thought was much better this week.”
Next week will see the final preseason game away against Bishop’s Stortford. A slightly unusual preseason fixture in the fact that they are rivals in National One this season, and meet for the first time in the league at Volac park on December 16th. Stortford won the National 2 South last season, just as Cambridge did the season before, so expect a good contest.
Questioned about selection issues heading forward, Stewart said; “We went with two even squads today, we didn’t favour a team for selection for the first XV. We’re going to have to pick one squad for next week which is going to be tough, but that’s yet to be decided.”
Leader added; “We’ve tried to build towards next week, as it’s a first team fixture only. What we’ve tried to do today, is give everyone an opportunity to show us what they can do, and against two strong sides they’ve had a fantastic chance to do that. We’ll have to have a good think about it now; we’ll meet in the week and make some difficult decisions.”
Updated 15:42 - 21 Aug 2017 by Adrian Fraser