Cambridge hit by Rams raid on opening day of National League One season
There was a sense of a role reversal at Volac Park as Cambridge slipped to an opening day 36-32 defeat to Rams in National League One.
The Berkshire side were making their debut at this tier of the rugby pyramid, although you could not tell.
There was no sense of feeling their way into the league or any apprehension, they just got stuck into the groove that must have stood them so well in getting promoted from National League 2S last season.
In contrast, Cambridge did feel inhibited.
It was as if they were in their shells, for the first half particularly, struggling to get their set-piece functioning or taking their attacking game to the line, and that it was in fact them adjusting to a new level.
Playing deeper, they were not getting onto the front foot quickly enough and this was falling into the hands of the Rams, particularly Ollie Taylor, Connor Stapley and Jamie Guttridge.
The visitors’ No 4, 5 and 6 really shone for their willingness to tackle anything that moved and their work at the breakdown.
Once the visitors’ defence was set, it did not look very easy to get through.
It was in the rucks that Cambridge particularly suffered as they were just not able to get any quick ball in the first half, which in turn limited their attacking abilities.
Tally that with a winger in Andrew Denham and full-back in Henry Bird that were almost unstoppable when they got in full flight for the Rams, and it was a 42 minutes for the hosts to forget.
Ben Penfold had kicked a penalty to give Cambridge the lead after four minutes, but what was to follow was a half to forget.
Andrew Humberstone made an initial break for Rams, and play was kept alive to put in Denham on the wing to touch down.
Cambridge showed what they could do when a free kick at a scrum went along the line for Andy Henderson to pass to Joe Tarrant on the diagonal to race clear and score.
It was simple and showed Cambridge what they needed to do, but they could not stick to the script.
Instead, 10 minutes later, Denham slipped two tackles on the break from halfway and had Ellis Jones in support, with the centre taking the pass on the inside to touch down. Alex Seers added the conversion.
Ten minutes later, a popped pass from scrum-half Jack Moates found Bird hitting a fantastic running line to burst through the midfield and away to score. Seers landed the extras for a 19-8 lead.
Penfold kicked a second penalty for Cambridge, but Seers responded to give Rams a deserved 22-11 half-time lead.
Lessons had not been learnt by Cambridge though and, within two minutes of the break, a turnover in midfield put Rams on the front foot and Denham raced away to score in the corner, with Seers’ conversion making it 29-11.
To say Cambridge faced an uphill battle is an understatement, but they responded through a belligerent, forceful drive from Alex Rayment, who appeared to take three players over the line with him for their second try, with Rhodri Adamson kicking the extras.
However, that good work was undone again six minutes later.
Rams hooker Ben Henderson channelled his inner Jonny May to skip away from multiple tackles and with some neat handling to boot, he was able to get the off-load away for Bird to hare clear for a second score.
Seers’ conversion gave the visitors an 18-point lead with 24 minutes remaining.
Cambridge were slowly waking from their slumber, and did go on to become the dominant side in the final quarter.
Pressure on the line eventually brought some rewards as Rayment touched down a second try, and a bonus-point fourth came late on when James Martin burst through a tackle to race clear under the posts. Adamson was successful with both conversions.
It gave Cambridge hope, with four points in it, but that was extinguished at the restart.
The Rams showed their hunger for the win as Denham was on his toes to steal the ball and allow the visitors to play out the game in Cambridge’s 22 for a deserved win.
It was not the opening day Cambridge wanted, with plenty to work on, but they can at least take heart from the way in which they rallied to earn two bonus points.
Cambridge: Tarrant; Petrides, Henderson, Hema, Martin; Penfold, Adamson; Rukhadze, Mayhew, Langley, Bretag-Norris, Conquest, Moore, Sloot, McCloud.
Replacements: Rawlings (McCloud, 5), Rayment (Mayhew, 36), Brown (Petrides, 40+4), Creighton (Penfold, 46), Mayhew (Sloot, 57), Peck (Langley, 57), Langley (Rukhadze, 80).
Rams: Bird; Corrigan, Jones, Humberstone, Denham; Seers, Moates; Kidd, Henderson, McDonnell-Roberts, Taylor, Stapley, Guttridge, Vooght, Stapley.
Replacements: Cole (Moates, 41), Hayhow (Humberstone, 65), Etete (Stapley, 65), Stapley (Guttridge, 72), Steadman (McDonnell-Roberts, 74).
Referee: Nick Wood.
Scorers: 4min Penfold pen (3-0), 8 Denham try (3-5), 11 Tarrant try (8-5), 21 Jones try - Seers con (8-12), 33 Bird try - Seers con (8-19), 38 Penfold pen (11-19), 40+1 Seers pen (11-22), 42 Denham try - Seers con (11-29), 50 Rayment try - Adamson con (18-29), 56 Bird try - Seers con (18-36), 75 Rayment try - Adamson con (25-36), 80+5 Martin try - Adamson con (32-36).
Sin bin: Cambridge - Henderson (foul play, 60); Rams - Henderson (technical offence, 80+5).