Cambridge need to find a grizzly side to help honest endeavours
Honest Cambridge need to find growl
Fierce but friendly could be the most appropriate way to describe Cambridge this season, but it could also ultimately end up being part of their problem.
They suffered a fourth defeat in a row when they were beaten 25-20 by Darlington Mowden Park, with a performance that will have left them wondering what might have been.
And yet what the display really required was a grizzly, horrible forward to rough up their opposition.
Cambridge have an honest group of players that are mainly young, have principles in how they want to play the game, are agile and nimble about the park and work hard for one another.
The problem is that while the honesty wins them friends for their conduct on the pitch, it also means that they can be bullied by opponents and leave themselves open to getting on the wrong side of the referee.
They are full on, fierce and committed in the tackle, with, frustratingly for the coaches, many of the tries that they concede ultimately coming from errors rather than by teams breaking them down.
It is that gnarly old head that seems to be missing though, the one who is a yard off the pace and always in the face of the opposition, almost spoiling for a fight at every breakdown.
If they had possessed that figure against Darlington last Saturday, then it is possible that it would have slowed the visitors down and taken the sting out of the situation as their opponents started to get up a bit of steam.
It is not advocating any sort of misdemeanours on the pitch, but so often at all levels you see referees having to constantly call captains over to have the same conversations with the same individuals, and therefore warnings of imminent further punishment.
So when posed with the question of whether Cambridge needed to be more grizzly, director of rugby Ross Stewart said: “Yes, you could argue that.
“At times, we go flat. Everyone knows we want to play a high tempo game, and we do, and we want the forwards to do that.
“But the one thing that people underestimate is that ability to be grizzly and we tend not to revert it.
“We’ve got a style of play, we trust that style of play. We’ve got to be able to adapt. We’re a young team and there are some times when you want experience to come in and drag everyone in and go ‘right, now’s the time for guts, tighten up, we’re going to go and bully them and we’re going to get one over them’ and we don’t really have that.
“So, the answer is yes. How do we create it? With coaching and a bit of understanding to what grizzly means, and what it looks like on the pitch.
“I think referees by that nature at times find it easy to penalise us. I’m not sure they feel that pressure in terms of experience and pressure in the game. Because we’re quite nice and young referees seem to think that’s an easy penalty, I’m not going to get it in the neck.
“And then we get guilty of whinging about it.”
The frustration for Cambridge is that rather than reflecting on a possible 10 points from matches against Old Albanian and Darlington Mowden Park, they are rueing six dropped.
Two tries from Matt Hema and one each from Albert Portsmouth and George Furbank helped them to two losing bonus points for the second week in a row.
But it left Stewart to say: “Defence and discipline was better, ball retention was poor on a good day for rugby. We just coughed up some really soft ball.
“That hurts us as a group more than ever at the moment because everything is under our control, hence why we talk about losing those six points over the last two weeks.
“It’s us that hasn’t finished a game and we always talk about the fact that we will make mistakes this year, but it’s the learning bit that’s the key. We’re not happy to make a mistake, but we will accept it. We need the learnings to take place and the learnings then need to be actioned.”
Cambridge have a difficult run of games coming up, so Stewart hopes that they can return to their early season run of form after four defeats in a row.
“We’ve got to have a good look at ourselves because the next three weeks could be tough, and one of the things that we did so well in the first half of the season, if you look at it, is never have a run of not picking up some good points,” he said.
“There was always a four-pointer or a five-pointer every three games which is something that was good for us as it just keeps it ticking over.
“It’s great we’re getting the bonus points, but that’s probably six points we’ve left on the pitch (in the last two weeks) and confidence is your next thing, and you could probably see that when we went behind.”