Sense of urgency needed for Cambridge after defeat to Ampthill in National League One
Finding a sense of urgency is set to be the major challenge for Cambridge in the closing months of the National League One season.
It is easy to believe that would be so, given their position in the table - they sit two places above the relegation zone after a 22-11 home defeat to Ampthill - but that is not entirely the reason.
Cambridge have shown in many matches their ability to attack in games, but they have left it so late too often – and that was the case again against the high-fliers.
It can, of course, be argued that their position in the table is a consequence of not getting into their attacking stride early enough in games, and it is difficult to argue otherwise – the points for column and try bonus points tell you a lot.
They do, however, have the depth of talent available at Volac Park, and the challenge for the coaching staff in the next few weeks is to unlock that urgency in order to cross the try-line more frequently in the early stages of matches, and hopefully head off a relegation battle.
Their try against Ampthill showed what they can do.
Henry Peck hit the line at pace to get the visitors scrambling and that in turn allowed Alex Rayment the opportunity to break the gain line. Some quick recycling saw play switched left and Mike Ayrton dived in at the corner.
It sounds so simple, but up until that point, which was the 72nd minute, Cambridge had laboured to get into the Ampthill 22.
That is not to take anything away from the visitors though, who were worthy of their win.
They dominated the breakdown which in turn led to them having the majority of territory and possession; Cambridge did not have their first put in to a set piece – a line-out – until the 41st minute of the first half.
Billy Johnson, Joe Bercis, Jonathan Kpoku and Karl Garside all caught the eye in making valuable yards for their team, and also their superiority at the rucks, and when they moved possession, the backs were just as assured.
They will, perhaps, be left to rue that they were did not get a fourth try for a bonus point, which allowed Old Elthamians to replace them at the top of the table.
It is to that end that Cambridge certainly deserve credit though, as for 20 minutes in the first half they were defending with 14 men, after spells in the sin bin for Darren Fox and Peck.
The hosts made their opponents work hard for their points, with their defence having been strong all season, but by giving away a large number of penalties, particularly in the first half, they made life hard for themselves, especially after it had started so brightly.
Ben Penfold landed a penalty after just two minutes, and two minutes later hit the bar with another effort.
Ampthill then started to get on top, and Cambridge were struggling to get on the right side of the referee.
James Pritchard kicked a penalty to bring the scores level in the ninth minute, and they took the lead after dominating a scrum under the posts, moving possession right for Spencer Sutherland to dot down in the corner.
Despite their dominance and numerical advantage, Ampthill were only able to add one more try to their tally in the first half – and that was a penalty try after a third successive infringement at a scrum under the posts.
A rare foray into the Ampthill 22 in the closing stages of the half saw Penfold kick another penalty to reduce the arrears to 15-6 at half time.
There were ominous signs for Cambridge at the start of the second half as some great hands by Josh Sharp put Kpoku clear to touch down, and Pritchard converted to make it 22-6 to Ampthill.
However, the hosts upped their game and were able to prevent Ampthill getting as much quick ball and dragged them more into an arm wrestle.
They were still having to work extremely hard to get out of their own 22, but then in the last 15 minutes or so, they started to make headway.
The problem was that it was too late - bar Ayrton’s try - and that is why they need to discover that sense of urgency far earlier in games in order to try to put their opponents on the ropes.
Cambridge: M Ayrton; Asiedu, Yawayawa, J Ayrton, Petrides; Penfold, Duffin; Ibrahim, Griffiths, Peck, Bretag-Norris, Baxter, Fox, Moore, McCloud.
Replacements: Meek (Moore, 27), Moore (Ibrahim, 39), Rawlings (McCloud, 55), Patrick (Petrides, 57), Rayment (Griffiths, 57), Rayner (Yawayawa, 62), McCloud (Bretag-Norris, 72).
Ampthill: Baker; Sutherland, Pritchard, Hanks, Foster; Sharp, G Williams; Tongauiha, Walliker, Garside, H Williams, Kpoku, Johnson, Bercis, Molitika.
Replacements: Allman (Molitika, 41), McElroy (Walliker, 41), Collins (Garside, 51), De Cothi (G Williams, 60), Molitika (Kpoku, 60), Waters (Foster, 65), Walliker (Tongauiha, 72).
Sin bin: Cambridge – Fox (foul play, 13), Peck (technical offence, 26).
Scorers: 2min Penfold pen (3-0), 9 Pritchard pen (3-3), 20 Sutherland try (3-8), 33 penalty try (3-15), 40+5 Penfold pen (6-15), 42 Kpoku try – Pritchard con (6-22), 73 M Ayrton try (11-22).
Referee: Veryan Boscawen.