Shelford III 34-55 Cambridge Exiles
Equal on points with local rivals Shelford the Exiles travelled to Davey Field for this key top of the table clash. Although they had two games in hand, losing today meant Shelford would also move through to the second part of the season and therefore that league would start with the Exiles having only 5 out of a maximum 10 points. A win today and whether Shelford or Renegades joined us, we would start with a maximum 10 points. So, a critical game then. After his hideous injury - dislocated hip - in the home fixture, it was great to see Shelford skipper Will Woodgate “Wooders” up and about and moving well.
The Exiles coaching team decided to pick their strongest front row to start the game after a couple of wobbles in the most recent matches. At the first scrum it was clear this policy was to pay off as Alex, Elie and Archie shifted Shelford backwards rapidly. The game then moved cagily in the midfield, both sides employing short drives to try to create space wide. The process worked best for Cambridge, as between them the back three of Coops, Kieran and Max were clearly superior in speed and strength to the Shelford back three. Good passing from the strong tackling centre combination of Josh and Joe created a man over on the left for Max as Coops entered the line, but instead he stepped inside to touch down for the first try of the game which Max converted for 0-7.
From the kick off, strong driving from Shelford forced the Exiles back towards their own try line as the Cambridge defensive line speed was way too slow. A good turnover was then wasted as the ball was spilled forward for a scrum to Shelford on five metres. Again the Exiles front row destroyed the Shelford pack, but the scrum half picked the ball out of the back of the scrum and ducked inside the covering tackles to go over for a well taken converted try. 7-7 and game on!
There then followed a very well balanced period of play as the Exiles defensive line speed improved and tackling was strong from the back row of Jules, Bod and Tall Guy Jake, turnovers being won.
Between them, the Exiles experienced half backs, Stef and Jacob, began to move the Shelford defence around. First Stef kicked to the corner where Josh was easily able to catch the ball unopposed and crossed the line for a try which Max converted. Then, as the Shelford defence was stretched after a couple of drives, Jacob put Joe into space and he scorched away for a try from 60 metres which Max again converted for 7-21
The Shelford defence had to resort to illegal tactics to slow down the Cambridge ball after several strong drives from Gareth and Jamari, the new second row partnership. Eventually ex-Shelford player, now referee, Johnnie Evans had enough and after a final warning, the Shelford outside centre was given a yellow card. This lead to a key eight minutes leading to half time.
Utilising the extra man with aplomb, after another very strong scrum Stef spread the ball wide right with a long pass and the bonus point try was scored by Kieran in the corner though Max’s conversion dropped short. Jacob then drew his man going left and slick passing from Josh and Joe gave the space on the left for Max to tough down in the corner, again Max’s conversion fell short but now all the back five had scored once. More slick passing, initiated by Jacob gave the final score of the half to Joe, Max converting, and the Exiles went into half time with a 7-38 lead and six tries to one.
Only one change at half time, with Gareth taking a breather after an excellent first half stint, Jules moving up to second row and Joe Roberts coming into the back row to tear about the field making turnovers. With the Shelford centre returning from his yellow however, the match was more even at the start of the second half and Cambridge’s next two tries were hard won. First a good sequence of drives and rucks provided a spread defence and Coops showed what a good broken field runner he can be, jinking in and around several defenders to score under the posts. Then shortly into the fourth quarter Jacob looked to be through on the line, when a high tackle stopped him short. From the resulting penalty quickly taken, the ball should have gone right for a clear overlap, but Jacob was not going to be denied and instead ran through the central Shelford defence breaking two tackles to cross under the posts. Max converted both and the half century was up, 7-50 and eight tries to one reflecting the dominance the Exiles had in the second and third quarters.
But: Shelford had other ideas. As the Exiles swapped in the bench, they became more disjointed in both defence and attack, added to by key injuries to Jamari, Jacob, Ryan and others. Shelford picked on this immediately and won territory and possession. They scored three good tries as the Exiles defensive line slowed down and conceded territory and tackling became, for some, an optional extra… Fortunately none were converted so the score rose to 22-50.
It was still clear that Cambridge were the better side if only they could play their rugby but maybe brains were switched off by the confidence in the win or by tired legs, or by the disruptions of injuries to key players. In one moment they showed again what they could do and good passing to the right gave an overlap which Coops used his speed to exploit, timing his pass to Adam who crossed the try line and just managed to touch down before going over the very short dead ball line. Max missed the conversion. 22-55.
The final five minutes were frustrating for the whole Exiles team, coaches and players alike, as the Exiles defensive effort, so key to the accumulation of half a century of points earlier in the game, fell apart. Line speed was non existent and as a result tackles were missed and Shelford scored twice more, finally converting one for a final score of 34-55.
As the whole group gathered after the final whistle and end of a good game to watch, heads were down until Darren pointed out we had scored more than fifty winning points against Shelford and won our EC1W league. A positive outcome to take into the second part of the season, though we still have two games to tidy up the league; against Haverhill away next weekend and Mildenhall Red Lodge on the 29th at home.
Tries: Coops 2, Josh, Joe J. 2, Kieran, Max, Jacob W. Adam
Conversions: Max 5
Alex Howell, Archie Davison, Elie Hammou, Gareth Edwards, Jamari Dowdie Wright, Julian Mannion, Louis Bodrozic, Jake Prier, Stef Liebenberg, Jacob Weightman, Max Burton, Josh Brown, Joe Johnson, Kieran Shave, Sean Cooper
Replacements: Stan Meadhurst, Richard Just, Joe Roberts, Brandon Ockenden, Ryan Curtis, Adam Griffiths, Asbel Rodriguez