Cambridge University secure victory in absorbing clash with Trinity College Dublin
Jake Hennessey try wraps up win for the Light Blues
Sometimes you just want to doff your hat to acknowledge not just a good game but an impressive performance.
Departing Grange Road after Cambridge University’s 36-26 win over Trinity College Dublin was one such occasion.
It is easy to throw away terms such as ‘great’, ‘brilliant’ and ‘superb’ when trying to find adjectives to describe a match – after all, we hear such narrative all the time these days as the overhyping of sport, in particular, has become common place.
There are times, though, when there does seem due cause to give something a more elevated billing, and the match between the two universities did feel as if it should fall into that category.
When Trinity College flew into a 21-7 lead after 21 minutes, any furrowed brows from the Light Blues could be forgiven – when the Irish students last visited Cambridge in 2016 they produced a mesmerising display in a 50-0 win.
By the full-time whistle though, the frowns had been replaced by broad smiles as the hosts produced a second-half show to turn the game on its head.
What was instantly noticeable from the early periods was the running and off-loading game of Trinity College Dublin, with their ability to carve open space.
It is why, after those initial phases, you did fear for the Light Blues as the visitors looked like they may score each time they went wide.
However, the defence came to the fore again, just as it has done many times this Michaelmas Term, and the blitz approach was restricting the space for Trinity.
No more was this highlighted than in the 71st minute, with what could be a defining moment of the term.
Mike Phillips had kicked the Light Blues in front with a penalty three minutes earlier, but Ronan Quinn seemed destined to score in the far corner for Trinity College.
Somehow, Elliot Baines got back to tackle him just short of the line, and when it seemed he may still make the touch down, Miles Huppatz was there in support to take Quinn into touch.
It seems a simple passage of play within the context of a game, but it is the sort of desire that you cannot coach – although, of course, you can guide the tackle technique - and was indicative of the way Cambridge applied themselves in defence after those first 20 minutes.
The scrum and line-out also functioned well for the Light Blues, really turning the screw on the visitors after the early phases had suggested it could be a long night.
Therefore, the platform was created for the hosts to try to get their own attacking game into full flow – and they showed in passages what they may be capable of achieving.
These fixtures in the build up to the Varsity Match though are as much about finding negatives as positives, with the aim of ironing them out before they face Oxford at Twickenham on December 6.
One such concern will be the way they started the game, and making sure that they are at least in the contest – if not in control of it – until the bitter end.
Those lapses in concentration allowed Trinity College to nip in for a couple of tries, and will surely be a focus in the weeks ahead.
Quinn capitalised on the first in the seventh minute, with play eventually being recycled for Alex MacDonald to burst through on the blind-side of a ruck for the opening try.
A catch and drive from a line-out ended with hooker Dan Sheehan landing a second try after 13 minutes, and James Fennelly’s second conversion made it 14-0.
The Light Blues responded two minutes later when Chris Bell took a quick tap penalty to burst clear to score under the posts, with Phillips converting.
Trinity restored their two-score margin when more quick hands along the line created the opportunity for Colm Hogan to touch down in the corner, and another good kick from Fennelly made it 21-7.
It did not take the hosts long to respond though, as from a catch and drive at a line-out, Miles Huppatz scored in the corner to make it 21-12.
That seemed to be the turning point for the university, and there was almost no looking back – except for a try by Johnny McKeown for Trinity College two minutes into the second half.
The growing patience of the Light Blues was rewarded in the 46th minute as they worked through the phases before Bell delivered the perfect pass for Jake Hennessey to dive over the line, and Phillips’ conversion went over off the post.
It was all square in the 58th minute when a catch and drive from a line-out was finished off by Jordan Eriksen, and the fly-half added the extras.
After Phillips’ penalty had given them the lead for the first time in the game, the scoring was completed when the fleet-of-foot Hennessey showed a quick pair of heels and change of direction to touch down under the posts.
Phillips’ conversion made it 36-26, and sealed what was a deserving win for the Light Blues in a thoroughly entertaining game.
Cambridge University: Gatus; Baines, King, Hennessey, Story; Phillips, Bell; MacCallum, Huppatz, Dean, Eriksen, Hunter, Leonard, McMahon, Koster.
Replacements: Schusman, Campbell, Beckett, Cook, Hargreaves, Saunders, Gnodde, Blick, Moore.
Trinity College Dublin: Dunne; Hogan, Murphy, Moriarty, Quinn; Fennelly, Lowndes; Vermeulen, Sheehan, Donnelly, O’Dwyer, Greene, Pim, McKeown, MacDonald.
Replacements: Horan, Clear, Clarke, Kearney, Egan, O’Kennedy.
Referee: Jack Lewars.
Scorers: 7min MacDonald try – Fennelly con (0-7), 13 Sheehan try – Fennelly con (0-14), 15 Bell try – Phillips con (7-14), 21 Hogan try – Fennelly con (7-21), 28 Huppatz try (12-21), 42 McKeown try (12-26), 46 Hennessey try – Phillips con (19-26), 58 Eriksen try – Phillips con (26-26), 68 Phillips pen (29-26), 80+1 Hennessey try – Phillips con (36-26).