Cottenham Renegades 14-24 Cambridge Exiles

On a cool autumn day on a flat, though narrow pitch, this top of the table clash in Eastern Counties League 1 West promised a great game of rugby. Renegades started the day top by a point, though having played one more game, with the Exiles second having got maximum points from all their games. A big crowd was there to watch, with the Cottenham fans ranged on the ditch side of the pitch, loudly encouraged by an insistent bass drum. Around forty Cambridge supporters were also present, for which the Exiles were extremely grateful. The two sets of supporters were to make a significant influence on the game. The beating drum wound up the Exiles to an extra layer of determination. The noisy Renegades supporters managed to set the referee against their own side - to the extent that at one stage in the match he even had to go over to the most vociferous and warn them to quieten down.

The game started cagily yet with lots of physicality. Our smallest player, Maxim, won a great turnover and short afterwards a late tackle by ex Cambridge player Tom Powell on Stef was rewarded with a penalty and a stern lecture. (An interesting fact: on tour to Latina with the Vanguards in 2001, Tom was one of a back row trio that was loaned to the home side by the Vanguards along with Harry Kirk and yours truly, making the Latina back row, Tom, Dick and Harry.) The kick was taken to the right side, and the ball worked first left, drawing the defence, then spread wide where slick passing and Coops’ entry to the line gave the ball to Alex with a man overlap and 35 metres to dash into the corner. The try proved the confirmation of the Exiles game plan: any team in this league that can maintain quick ball for three phases will get the opportunity to go wide and with strong, speedy wingers gives good chances to score. Stef missed the difficult conversion from the touchline for 0-5.

Shortly afterwards, the Renegades centre, wound up by the crowd, elbowed Coops in the face in an off-the-ball scuffle and saw the referee brandishing a yellow card. With a man advantage, the Exiles then pressed on with the game plan of high tempo phases expertly masterminded by our player/coach Stef. But Renegades defended stoutly by fair means and foul, giving away many penalties which the Exiles were frustratingly not allowed to take quickly. The referee would improve by becoming more empathetic to adult players. We are of course all extremely grateful to anyone who is prepared to give up their Saturday afternoons to referee our games and we thank them all. But in this case the frustrations built up on both sides and it was down to excellent discipline from the Exiles that the referee lost patience with Renegades again and gave a second yellow to their prop for fighting on the ground.

For a couple of minutes Renegades were down to 13 and it looked like Cambridge were going to score when a five metre line out was adjudged not straight. From the resulting scrum, the Exiles used the man advantage, even though the centre had returned, to cross the line only for them to be judged to have encroached within 5m and give away the penalty. Another couple of minutes of strong defence from Renegades took us to half time and a return to full strength with the score at 0-5. It had been an epic defensive display not to lose any points while a man down for best part of 18 minutes.

The second half started in much the same way as the first, with the Exiles continuing to work the game plan drummed into them by Stef and Darren at half time. The management team knew that Renegades would not continue to be able to hold out against it and would eventually give way.

After ten minutes or so, the Renegades blind side flanker made one too many late tackles on Stef who was clearly targeted all afternoon and was given the Renegades third yellow card. Sadly, by concentrating on the late tackle, the ref failed to see the continuing play where Alex was poleaxed by the Renegades eleven in what would have been a clear red card in any filmed game, flying straight in at neck height. When the ref went to his pocket he started to walk as he knew what he had done, and was shocked to be told that the card wasn’t for him but for the earlier late tackle! Once again Renegades were down to 14, however, Tom’s brother Ben Powell had managed to get to the ground and came on in the centre, making a real difference there for the rest of the match.

Nonetheless, the Exiles were now on top and continued with their structure. After a few minutes, Nick who had been following Stef’s instructions took the game into his own hands, noticing that there was space to the right and the ball was given to Bod on the ten metre line. With the Renegades desperate to cover in defence to prevent Alex’s second try, Bod stepped inside twice to score under the posts to the delight of the Exiles. Stef converted for 0-12.

Shortly afterwards, under the same circumstances, there was almost the first poor pass to Alex who was on for the overlap try. And again a few minutes later when this time the ball was given to Alex on the half way line and, showing amazing strength for such a young whippet, he got inside the 22 before being bundled out, a sequence shown in the photo montage. Alex was the deserved man of the match, chosen by both the Cambridge and Renegades team, a very well deserved award.

From the resulting line out, the Exiles surprised the Renegades with a catch and drive and despite being held up just short of the line, when the ball was spread to Stef, he executed an exquisite grubber kick through for Max to touch down despite being blocked in the centre, getting to the ball just before it went dead with the Renegades full back waiting for it to cross the line. Again, Stef converted to take the score to 0- 19 with fifteen minutes to play.

With Stef continuing to control the game plan, the Exiles next worked an overlap for Maxim inside his own 22 - like lightning he shot off down the wing, beating the first covering defence and sheer pace taking him past both second and then third defenders in the narrowest of gaps to touch down in the left corner! Stef missed the difficult conversion into the wind but the score at 0-24 at last reflected the quality of play from the two teams and with ten minutes left the result was now clear. As a result the Exiles made some late changes and as ever, this disruption, together with a yellow card for Jamari after a high tackle, gave the Renegades the opportunity to score a couple of late consolation tries, aided by being allowed to take the quick penalties, the opportunity for which had been denied the Exiles in the first half. Final score 14-24 to the Exiles and they move to the top of the league by four points with a game in hand.

This is developing into a good team. Another couple of first time players for us this week - Marcus and Brandon - were excellent throughout in the loose in particular. The props Jamari and Cadge both had steady go forward against a very strong Renegades pack. Our second row combination of Jules and Bod in a rare opportunity as Sarries didn’t have a game for him to analyse won all our own and several of the opposition line out and were a constant nuisance in the loose. And our veteran flankers Dex and Jimbo were ever present as a thorn in Renegades side whenever they had the ball. The Nick/Stef partnership goes from strength to strength and Max and Asbo made good yards in the centre. Our back three’s pace causes any team trouble and all three are the fiercest of tacklers. Jed and James both did well after coming on and George started his first game for us on 78 minutes. Three of our replacements didn’t get on today, which is very rare for us, but they are an integral part of our team and we thank them enormously. Their turn will definitely come.

However: the team and the season are still very much a work in progress. While Stef commanded a strong pattern of play yesterday, there is still a tendency by most of the rest of the team to play less successful, looser rugby and our tackling still lets us down at times, such that most teams have scored against us, Shelford excluded. And if we continue to win in EC1W, in the second half of the season we will come up against teams like North Walsham II, who have won 151-0 and 120-0 and so far have had just one try against them all season. This is another level and needs the Exiles squad to continue to improve if we are to even begin to hope to win the overall EC1 league. We need to win this league first!

Meanwhile enjoy the feeling of being on top of the West table guys and well done!

Scorers

Tries: Alex, Bod, Max, Maxim

Conversions: Stef 2

Team

Jamari Dowdie, Marcus Lankford, David Cadwalladr, Louis Bodrozic, Julian Mannion, Dave Dexter, Jim Tebbitt, Brandon Foot, Nick Apps, Stef Liebenberg, Maxim Gleeson, Max Burton, Asbel Rodriguez, Alex Howard, Sean Cooper

Replacements: Jed McDonald, James Kennedy, Brandon Ockenden (did not play), Elie Hammou (did not play), Kyle Kotkin-Smith (did not play), George Alexander, Cesar Belloso

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