Cambridge unable to withstand pace and power of Blackheath
Spell either side of half time proves decisive
Six minutes was all that was needed for Blackheath to take the game away from Cambridge in National League One.
However you make look at the scoreboard though, it was far more than four minutes before half time and two minutes after that heaped the damage on the hosts in a 43-24 defeat.
Given the nature of the division so far this season, it is difficult to know exactly what to expect from any side, however, Cambridge knew that James Shanahan would have Blackheath well drilled, at the very least.
They have an experienced spine to the team, and heading into the match you just felt that Cambridge were going to need to take the sting out of the game and slow it down as much as possible to blunt Blackheath in attack.
With that, comes the need for patience and to not offer any quick ball with which their opponents could play and, unfortunately, the hosts were not quite able to match that challenge.
There is an argument that there were elements of naivety from Cambridge that weighed against a streetwise and savvy Blackheath, and that was particularly prevalent in their exit plays when they were heading into the wind.
It was gusty at Volac Park to say the least, with Cambridge going into the wind in the first half, and you were just left at times feeling they needed to be that bit smarter in possession and look after the ball better.
After all, Blackheath are a team that love to move play and get it along their backs as quickly as possible to break the gain line, and in those four minutes before half time, when Cambridge had two players in the sin bin, the damage was done as the visitors had the freedom to run in two tries.
Who knows what may have happened if Cambridge had reached the break trailing only 15-10, and with the conditions in their favour in the second half, but they had been in a battle for the first 40.
Their scrum and set piece was not functioning as well as it has done up until this point, and it was from a penalty offence committed at the first scrum that Blackheath’s Mark Cooke kicked the opening points of the game.
Cambridge replied in the 19th minute with a penalty through Lawrence Rayner to make it 3-3, but Blackheath then gained the ascendancy.
Harry Bate and Freddie Owen were prominent at the breakdown for the visitors, and combined with their structures of running rugby, in wingers Craig Dowsett and Jake Lloyd they had the perfect blend of power and pace.
A perhaps unlikely source of impetus for Blackheath though was replacement hooker Harry Fry, who seemed to be everywhere with a big ball-carrying role that had a crowning moment as he put in Jack Daly for the visitors’ final try in the 69th minute.
The match had been wrapped up by then though.
Lloyd had been allowed to travel too far to get Blackheath’s second try after 22 minutes, and another passing move along the line at pace saw Lloyd get his second four minutes later.
Cambridge were far from out of it though, and a great break by Mike Ayrton saw him draw his last man to put in Jake McCloud, who had run a great support line to touch down.
It should have served to show the hosts exactly what they could do with patience and maintaining possession, but did not act as quite the spur they needed.
After yellow cards for first Alex Rayment and then Ayrton, Anders Nilsson dotted down after a scrum was pushed over the line and then Dowsett’s break of the line was finished off by Nick Foster, and that helped make it 29-10 to Blackheath at half time.
Any hopes of using the wind to get back in the game were slim to negligible two minutes after the restart as another break by Dowsett this time had Owen in support to touch down beneath the posts, with Foster’s extras making it 36-10.
Cambridge grew into the half, and got a second try as they moved possession from right to left for Ayrton to touch down in the corner after 62 minutes.
Fry replied for Blackheath, and despite the final word going to McCloud with a slalom run through the visitors’ defence for a try, Cambridge did not have enough time to seek a bonus point for four tries as they lost 43-24.
Cambridge: Rayner; Yawayawa, Hema, J Ayron, M Ayrton; Green, Duffin; Ibrahim, Rayment, Peck, Conquest, Bretag-Norris, Benoy, McCloud, Hipwell.
Replacements: Asiedu (Hema, 27), Ruddock (Conquest, 38-40), Rawlings (Bretag-Norris, 44), Harrison (Ibrahim, 50), Schoeman (McCloud, 50), Ibrahim (Peck, 53), McCloud (Hipwell, 66), Ruddock (Rayment, 70), Hipwell (Ibrahim, 75).
Blackheath: Foster; Lloyd, Staff, Burcham, Dowsett; Cooke, Liebenberg; Williams, Perks, Herriott, Patrick, Stradwick, Owen, Bate, Nilsson.
Replacements: Fry (Perks, 24), Moore (Patrick, 48), Daly (Liebenberg, 56), Clements-Hill (Dowsett, 56), Patrick (Owen, 65), Ackuaku (Herriott, 70).
Scorers: 5min Cooke pen (0-3), 19 Rayner pen (3-3), 22 Lloyd try – Cooke con (3-10), 26 Lloyd try (3-15), 29 McCloud try – Rayner con (10-15), 40 Nilsson try – Foster con (10-22), 40+4 Foster try – Foster con (10-29), 42 Owen try – Foster con (10-36), 62 M Ayrton try – Rayner con (17-36), 69 Daly try – Clements-Hill con (17-43), 80+2 McCloud try – Rayner con (24-43).
Sin bin: Cambridge – Rayment (technical offence, 32), M Ayrton (foul play, 36), Schoeman (foul play, 69); Blackheath – Fry (technical offence, 73).
Referee: James Clarke