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Cambridge head into Christmas break with victory over Bishop's Stortford in National League One

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Joe Tarrant scored Cambridge's first try against Bishop's Stortford.
Joe Tarrant scored Cambridge's first try against Bishop's Stortford.

Cambridge signed off for the decade on a high with a 23-16 win over Bishop’s Stortford in National League One.

It was a deserved victory that was built on their defence against their near-neighbours.

A precautionary pitch inspection for Volac Park hinted at what to expect given the rain during the previous 24 hours, and so it transpired, with a heavy pitch making any yards twice as hard to earn.

It was a reason why the Cambridge defence was so impressive as they were on the front foot operating a high line, negating the space in behind, and forcing Stortford to have to go through them.

With the stodgy nature of the surface, it meant quick feet and attacks around the fringes of the breakdown were few and far between so tackling at the right height and intensity was key to thwarting the opposition.

The officiating seemed to want to prevent a contest at the breakdown - transgressions were very quickly identified and penalised - perhaps not properly taking into account the nature of the conditions, but more on that later.

Cambridge’s work to bring their back three into play as a lethal outlet is being honed by the match, and this one was only two minutes old when they had a say.

Good work into the Stortford 22 led to Joe Tarrant taking a pass to wheel through a tackle to touch down. Lawrence Rayner kicked the conversion.

Stortford upped the pressure and were awarded a penalty that Tom Banks converted after 11 minutes, but Cambridge went back on the attack themselves, and Rayner added three points to make it 10-3 after 15 minutes.

The penalty count was rising against Cambridge, and in the 18th minute, Ben Adams was yellow carded. However, Cambridge were to show the strength of their scrum, which was impressive all afternoon.

With their open-side flanker in the bin, they put in a back to make up the numbers - James Martin, Ned Brown and Matt Hema on separate occasions - and from three scrums, they won three penalties.

Stortford were enjoying the majority of the possession and territory, but the hosts’ defence was resolute. Finally, from another penalty, Banks opted to kick for the points in the 38th minute in front of the post to make it 10-6.

It was a credit to the Cambridge defence that after such a sustained period of pressure they were only hurt by three points on the scoreboard.

The visitors’ hard work and effort was ultimately undone when, within a minute, they gave Rayner the chance to kick a penalty, which he gleefully accepted to make it 13-6 at half time.

Cambridge started the second half in equally good spirits.

In the 53rd minute, having been judged to have been held up after a drive over the line, they went wide from a scrum and five phases later, David Langley powered over for a try. Rayner’s extras made it 20-6.

Banks went up the other end to kick a third penalty for Stortford to reduce the arrears, but Ben Penfold responded 10 minutes later for Cambridge to make it 23-9.

Cambridge seemed to be heading for another try with a great move in the 73rd minute.

Penfold’s cross-field kick was superbly caught by Andrew Henderson on the left wing, and with a defender in front of him, he kicked through.

However, he was then tackled without the ball by Connor Mak, earning the Stortford player a yellow card but no penalty try as it must have been judged that the cover defence would have got round.

Then, in the final 10 minutes, you were left to scratch your head with what was going on.

Stortford took the challenge to Cambridge, who were defending their line with all their might.

After Cambridge had conceded a couple of penalties, referee Ben Wilde ran out of patience and sin-binned Henry Peck.

The defence stood firm, but two minutes later, Cambridge’s Langley was yellow carded. Then, with still no breakthrough, Tarrant went to the bin.

It was a very puzzling passage of play.

World Rugby rules state that “a penalty try is awarded by the referee if they deem a player would have scored a try if a foul hadn't of been committed by an opponent”.

Surely, if they were continued offences and were worthy of yellow cards then after the second, the ultimate sanction should have been a penalty try to Stortford which would also have given them a chance to seek another score.

However, it did not appear that Cambridge captain George Bretag-Norris was even called across for a ‘chat’ and given a team 'warning'.

Instead, the card count went up, the minutes went down for Stortford and the defence still hung in.

Jame Apperley eventually crossed the line, and George Cullen converted, to give Stortford hope, especially with a kick off to receive against 12 men.

The kick was good though from Penfold, and the pressure led to an error from the visitors and the final whistle.

Despite the chaotic finale, it was a deserved win for Cambridge which sees them go into the Christmas break after back-to-back wins and ahead of their points tally at the same stage last season.

Cambridge: Tarrant; Martin, Hema, Brown, Henderson; Rayner, Duffin; Meek, Priestley, Peck, Conquest, Baxter, Bretag-Norris, Adams, McCloud.

Replacements: Rayment (Priestley, 28), Langley (Peck, 50), Penfold (Rayner, 59), 70 Adamson (Duffin, 70), Sloot (Conquest, 70), Peck (Meek, 75), Conquest (Baxter, 79).

Bishop’s Stortford: Hankin; Stannard, Winter, J Ayrton, M Ayrton; Cullen, Banks; Brownhill, Dan, Harrison-Price, Thacker, Apperley, Wilson, Ball, Kingham.

Replacements: Elsom (Thacker, 53), McCrone (Harrison-Price, 62), Keen (M Ayrton, 64), Mak (Banks, 70), Petty (Dan, 74).

Scorers: 2min Tarrant try - Rayner con (7-0), 11 Banks pen (7-3), 15 Rayner pen (10-3), 38 Banks pen (10-6), 40+1 Rayner pen (13-6), 53 Langley try - Rayner con (20-6), 58 Banks pen (20-9), 69 Penfold pen (23-9), 80+9 Apperley try - Cullen con (23-16).

Sin bin: Cambridge - Adams (technical offence, 18), Peck (technical offence, 80+4), Langley (technical offence, 80+6), Tarrant (technical offence, 80+7); Bishop’s Stortford - Mak (technical offence, 73).

Referee: Ben Wilde.

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