Cambridge clinch hard-earned win over Hull Ionians
Louis Rawlings catches the eye at Volac Park
Cambridge withstood a late comeback from Hull Ionians to earn an important 29-19 win that will go a long way to securing their National League One status next season.
Volunteers had put in a huge effort to get standing water off the Volac Park pitch, and their efforts were rewarded by the team in what was an entertaining game.
Both teams were striving to get a bit of breathing space away from the lower positions in the table, and this was probably evident in the first half when defences were certainly on top.
It is that defence which has stood Cambridge in good stead this season, with the collective entity proving such a force and a leading reason why they have one of the meanest records in the division.
In the display against Hull, Louis Rawlings epitomised what being part of the Cambridge defence, in particular the pack, means and requires.
The open-side flanker was deservedly given the man-of-the-match award, although you could be forgiven for not noticing at first glance his influential display.
Rawlings is not necessarily going to be the player that makes 50-yard lung-busting bursts to put his team on the front foot. In fact, you imagine he may be more content with a 10 to 20-yard gallivant that ensured his team made some ground but maintained position.
The No 7 has a wiry frame that seems ideal to squirrelling away the ball from the opposition’s grasp, and also clasping on to a leg or body in the tackle and just not letting go.
Those traits were out in force from Rawlings, who scored Cambridge’s first from all of five yards in the sixth minute, but it is important to remember that they have been equally as well exhibited by whoever has filled a shirt numbered 1 to 8 all season.
They were also skills that left Hull facing a mountain to climb at 24-0 after 50 minutes, and one which they almost did manage to scale to take something home with them.
With a bit more clarity of thinking at key decision-making moments, perhaps Hull would not have found themselves so far behind, but they are occasions for the Hull coaching team to ponder.
Good work along the line and a pass from Jake McCloud saw Rawlings dive over after six minutes, and Ben Penfold increased the lead with a penalty after 26 minutes.
The penalty count was rising against Cambridge, however, and they were finding themselves under the cosh in defending a dominant driving maul from Hull, who were using the weapon to good effect for territory only to just be unable to break down the final line of the hosts’ defence.
It looked like that moment may finally arrive at the end of the first half as one such rolling maul seemed to be eating up ground near the posts, only for the decision to made to move play wide.
It was difficult to fathom why they decided to take play into the loose – although it could have been a warning from the referee to use the ball, but he did not make his decisions clear to spectators all afternoon – and it proved costly.
As play was spread wide, Cambridge scrum-half Tom Emery expertly intercepted the ball around five metres out and sprinted the length of the field to touch down, with Penfold’s conversion making it 17-0 at half time.
A minute into the second half, McCloud broke on halfway and drew the last man before passing to the supporting Mike Ayrton on his shoulder, with the captain racing away to touch down. Penfold added the extras.
It left Hull staring at defeat, but they responded with a catch and drive from a line-out that ended with James Sanderson touching down after 54 minutes.
Cambridge, though, matched them, scoring from a rolling maul after 66 minutes, with Joe Britton getting the ball over the line to make it 29-7.
Hull by this point though were moving the ball well and stretching the play to create space, and twice they got over by using their wings.
Firstly, a good move across the line to the right saw Sam Wilson get in, with Greg Lound converting, and then five minutes later they went the other way, with Adam Thomas touching down to make it 29-19.
In the closing stages, it looked as if Hull may have earned a try and a losing bonus point after grounding the ball in the corner, but it was deemed that they had knocked on.
It was unfortunate for the visitors, who probably deserved that from the game, but Cambridge were worthy of their second five-point haul in a week, which edges them closer to guaranteed safety.
Cambridge: M Ayrton; Petrides, Hema, Hennessey, Elvers; Penfold, Emery; Morley, Rayment, Moynihan, Bretag-Norris, Conquest, Britton, Rawlings, McCloud.
Replacements: Meek (Morley, 54), Ruddock (Rayment, 63), Baxter (Conquest, 63), Green (Elvers, 69), Keenan (Emery, 74), Morley (Moynihan, 74).
Hull Ionians: Slingsby; Tincknell, Minikin, Allott, Humberstone; Lound, Watts; Laverick, Stephenson, Dennis, Makin, Newman, Cotterill, Sanderson, Priestley-Nangle.
Replacements: Torkington (Priestley-Nangle, 40), Thomas (Watts, 40), Capps (Laverick, 42), Wilson (Tincknell, 42), Thompson (Stephenson, 50), Priestley-Nangle (Newman, 54).
Scorers: 6min McCloud try – Penfold con (7-0), 26 Penfold pen (10-0), 38 Emery try – Penfold con (17-0), 41 Ayrton try – Penfold con (24-0), 54 Sanderson try – Lound con (24-7), 65 Britton try (29-7), 72 Wilson try – Lound con (29-14), 77 Thomas try (29-19).
Sin bin: Cambridge – Britton (technical offence, 40).
Referee: James Clarke.