Cambridge Exiles 35 - 12 Bury St Edmunds 3

With Stef back to lead the Exiles this week, there was hope that their performance would improve significantly particularly in the last quarter. Bury St Edmunds had proved a worthy opponent away, scoring four tries, so the primary job of the Exiles this week was to stop haemorrhaging scores, particularly in the final ten minutes of games. The coaches’ challenge is to concede fewer than 31 points in the next six games: five points per game. To some extent, this was an improvement, as Bury scored only two tries - both well deserved.

The game started with continuous Bury pressure for the first five minutes before the Exiles got hold of the ball. This stemmed from their really strong scrum, with the Exiles being shoved backwards in the first two at quite a rate. It looked like this might prove a difficult day, especially as the Bury scrum half was feeding so much that for the first time this season, Banksie didn’t get a single strike against the head. It looked like it was going to be a hard day at the office for Stan and Cadge propping, but some adjustments were made to the way Julian and Michael were pushing, aided by Joe and James pushing in from the flanks and the scrums stabilised. For the next ten minutes, play ebbed and flowed principally between the two 22s, with occasional forays towards each end zone, but never getting too close in either case.

It looked as though it was going to be a close run event. However, after fifteen minutes the ball was shifted left and, drawing his man, Nick passed to Maxim on the wing, the first time he had a little space with thirty metres to go. Maxim has electric pace and sped down the left touchline past three defenders to score near the corner, an excellent try. Max’s conversion was spot on and split the uprights exactly from the touchline and the Exiles were 7-0 up.

A few minutes later, the Exiles tried again. This time Stef spotted the man overlap on the left, shifted it to Josh whose pass opened the space for Maxim this time with forty five metres to go. Noone was going to stop Mighty-Mini-Maxi from that distance with that space and he was able to touch down a little closer to the posts. Max again converted and the score looked a little more comfortable for the Exiles, even though it was not reflective of the balance of play in the game.

Play continued to move up and down the pitch, both sides’ defences proving too strong for their attacks, with powerful running from all the Exiles back row, James, Dex and Joe - awarded Man of the Match for this and his defence - being repulsed, and the Exiles team tackling solidly throughout the game. A succession of frustrating penalties and reset scrums, that maybe a more sympathetic referee would not have awarded, meant the game couldn’t really flow and slowed down the fast tempo the Exiles were looking to exploit. Eventually, a beautifully judged, deft grubber kick from Stef gave Max the chance to show his own pace and touch down for the Exiles third try, which he converted for 21-0.

This third score could easily have demoralised the Bury side, but they came back strongly and despite a fantastic defensive effort on the Exiles’ own line from a succession of scrums and line outs, eventually the classy Bury ten stepped the defence and ran in a good try under the posts which he converted for a half time score of 21-7.

The Exiles had generally played the way they had been asked, so half time simply asked for more of the same. Jim came on for James, trying to avoid the mass changes that have disrupted second halves.

Both sides were getting frustrated with the numerous stoppages with a series of penalties evenly shared. After five minutes or so, Stef took a quick penalty, allowed at last, and seeing space on the right gave Adam the chance to race into the corner for the fourth - bonus point - try, which Max again converted expertly for 28-7.

The penalties continued to rain down as both sides began to tire. Eventually, frustration bit at the Bury twelve, who spear tackled Alex Howard following up on a kick and chase. Fortunately for both of them, Alex landed on his shoulder, but more by luck than judgement and the expected red card was reduced to a yellow. Post game, the ref admitted he felt that maybe he should have still given the red, but at this level there’s no citing and everyone has to go to work on a Monday morning…

As often happens, with fourteen players, Bury galvanised themselves and despite stout defence from the Exiles, they were able to score a try out on the right having drawn the defence narrow, a well worked try, which the ten failed to convert. 28-12

Now the Exiles extra man began to look ominous and when the Bury prop was also given a yellow and they were down to 13 briefly, the Exiles were able to expert good pressure. Eventually, some classic pick and drive play meant Alex Howard had a little space when he got the ball on the inside and he powered over the line, belying his slim frame. As he matures, Alex is going to be a player to watch. Max converted for a 100% kicking record and the final score then remained at 35-12, with the Exiles looking really solid.

Another bonus point win - seven from seven - keeps us at the top of the table with maximum points, but the coaches’ challenge is now to concede fewer than nineteen points in the next five games, four points per game. We will need a couple of games to nil to make that! This was a pleasing win against a really tough side: the remaining five games after a break of two weekends, are going to prove even harder as every team will be doing their utmost to topple us. Plenty of work to do in training then!

Tries: Maxim 2, Max, Adam, Alex Howard
Conversions: Max 5

Stan Meadhurst, Simon Banks, David Cadwalladr, Michael Robson, Julian Mannion, James Kennedy, Joe Roberts, Dave Dexter, Nick Apps, Stef Liebenberg, Maxim Gleeson, Max Burton, Joshua James Brown, Adam Griffiths, Alex Howard
Replacements: Alex Howell, Jake Letch, Brandon Ockenden, Jim Tebbitt, Cesar Belloso, Darren Messenger (Did not play)

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