3rd XV spoil league leaders title party winning by a nose at Newmarket
By Ben Peterson
League title favourites Newmarket out jockeyed as they struggled to stay the course leaving Cambridge to enjoy the celebrations in the winners enclosure.
Cambridge 3rd XV served up yet another impressive performance in a game that had the potential to be a thriller in the build-up and certainly delivered in spades on day on the pitch.
Head Coach Darren Messenger said, “It was fantastic to spoil the party. We’re starting to make a habit of winning these tight games. We talked a lot about defence in the build up and worked hard on that aspect of our game in training. It’s so pleasing to see the boys respond and they deserve the victory today with the commitment and effort they showed on the park, once again mixing it with the top teams in the league.”
Like an episode of “Botched”, the bizarre plastic surgery reality show, it was nip and tuck until the final whistle.
Sport can be cruel. Pressure effects performance in so many different ways. Sports physiologists talk about choking. But is it choking or just simply panicking when things don’t go your way.
It often happens in the big games, and there’s no one that can tell me that this wasn’t a massive game for Newmarket. Having been top of the table for the entire season, their destiny in their own hands. Only one loss and one draw leading up to today, they were definitely the clear favourites before the whistle. All that pressure manifests itself in the heads of the players. Sport is as mental as it is physical. Added pressure can come from playing at home, a pre-match VP’s lunch, friends, family, and all those good looking* supporters they want to impress. All that excitement and nervous energy does funny things to your performance. Big game players often step up, but others go into their shells.
There are two negative behaviours that can occur under this type of pressure. Choking and Panicking. Sport Psychologist, Malcolm Gladwell, does a good job in analysing the differences between the two by describing behaviour, brain processes, and psychological studies related to choking and panicking in his book “The Art of Failure”. “Choking is about thinking too much. Panic is about thinking too little. Choking is about loss of instinct.
All that said and done, the match itself came down to it being just another great game of rugby, with both sides contributing to the fight like rutting highland stags as the game ebbed and flowed. Recently signed Harry Sturgess, delivered a Man of The Match performance moving from centre to fly half today. Up against Newmarket legend Michael Reeves, he used his youthful advantage to beat the big man on a number of occasions. Reeve’s was probably pleased to have to move into the Newmarket front row when the home side lost a prop early on. Don’t see that very often......fly half acting as front row cover.
The early pressure at the kick off came from visitors with George Gadsby all over the receiver and the resulting turnover setting the tone for the Blood and Sand. A couple of phases later and the pressure was rewarded with a penalty. James Peach converted and after only 2 minutes Newmarket were in no doubt that the visitors were here to play. Cambridge had talked a lot about how well they would need to defend if they were to win this fixture. All the hard work in training paying dividends as the boys looked really well organised. The line speed was impressive and stopped Newmarket from playing for large parts of the game.
Much of the early stages of the game saw the lions share of the rugby being played by Cambridge, but with little mistakes here and there Newmarket were able to force the visitors to play in their own half. The Newmarket 13, Max Bell, was excellent throughout, causing a lot of problems with his quick feet and genuine gas. Their scrum half marshalled, snipped and kept Cambridge honest at the breakdown. The 15 also had some pace that raised a few alarm bells early on. But neither side could really get a grip and it took a further 26 minutes for Newmarket to make a penalty advantage count. Opting for a quick tap rather than an easy 3 points, they were rewarded with a strong finish by Bell on the right side of the posts. The conversion was missed.
Cambridge hit back almost immediately with what was their best rugby of the half. Finally able to play in the Newmarket half they pieced together some quick phase play. A neat cut-out pass from James Peach found the “Flying Venezuelan”, Cesar Belloso, on the wing. He still had a lot to do wide on the left beating 3 defenders to take it to the house. Peach kicked the extras.
Half Time Newmarket RFC 5 – 10 CRUFC
The second half saw some forced changes for both sides and where the visitors had been dominant up front in the first period it was the home teams turn to put on the pressure at scrum time. There were long periods of play with both sides defending like their lives depended on it. Line breaks, try saving tackles, little knock-ons at key moments it was edge of your seat stuff.
Things got a little heated after an awkward tackle from Gary Duffy, catching the Newmarket 13 high in a collision; thankfully looked worse than it was. No damage done, but it was hand-bags at dawn from the home side taking it upon themselves to let Duffy know they weren’t happy with the challenge. The result was two yellow cards, one for Duffy, who'd only been on for 2mins, for the clumsy challenge and one for the home side to enable them to do some proper dancing round the hand bag with 10mins in the bin.
More pressure from Cambridge, Newmarket getting out of jail on a number of occasions; the ding dong battle continued. Another injury stopped play, this time it was a little more serious and the game was stopped for 5-10mins. Fortunately nothing too serious in the end, but player safety is paramount. Good to see him back on his feet to leave the field with a little help.
The rest must have come at the right time for Newmarket to regroup. They surged down the field again. Forcing a penalty in front of the posts, again opting for a scrum as opposed to the easy 3 points and with some quick work from the base Max Bell bulldozed his way in for a second try, clattering full back Dan Clifton like a ten pin on route. Well-deserved for him, but not much fun for Dan. Extras were good. Newmarket into the lead and only 10 minutes left on the clock. Squeaky bum time all over again.
Cambridge continued to work hard for each other and ask questions of the league leaders. Taking it to the line time and again managed to get in behind the defence from a scrum to the left of the posts, desperate Newmarket defence resulted in a penalty, yellow card and a penalty try for the visitors. No conversion needed.
As finishes go it could have gone either way. The clock kept ticking on and Newmarket gave it everything. Cambridge were gifted a chance to put the game to bed right at the death of injury time. James Peach missed to the right of the post with a tired effort. Newmarket found themselves in last chance salon, but it wasn’t going to be there day, the boys in the Blood and Sand stood firm and the final whistle signalled celebrations from an exhausted squad.
Final Score Newmarket RFC 12 – 17 CRUFC
Great credit to both sides for an enthralling game and to Newmarket who were gracious in defeat and fine hosts post match. Cambridge were ecstatic to spoil the party and avenge their home defeat. The league title will come down to the final weekend when Newmarket play Cottenham Renegades who also suffered a surprise loss at March today. In fairness they’ve been the most consistent teams in the league so it is fitting that they should get to shoot it out in a winner takes all final. Good luck to both clubs may the best looking team win.
Thanks as always to Bob Coote for the great photos.
Tries: Cesar Belloso, Penalty Try
Pens: James Peach
Cons: James Peach
*see Newmarket RFC Twitter feed for reference