Cambridge University turn on the style in 70th anniversary of Steele-Bodger XV match
A day to remember at Grange Road
Cambridge University v Steele-Bodger XC - Cambridge University Rugby Union Football Club, 47 Grange Rd, Cambridge. Picture: Keith Heppell
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Whenever you think of the annual Steele-Bodger XV match against Cambridge University you have to think about it in two separate parts – the occasion and the match.
As an afternoon, it continues to be one of the main events in the Cambridge social calendar – as the saying goes, be there or be square.
There was particular resonance this year as it marked the 70th staging of a match that was first held when Micky Steele-Bodger was asked to raise a side in order for the university to prepare to face Oxford at Twickenham.
It meant that some of rugby’s greatest names were out en masse to celebrate such a landmark game, and that helped to create a convivial atmosphere at Grange Road.
And that is one of the key points, for many gathered at the ground everything around the match was most important, perhaps more so than the game itself.
But, of course, for the current crop of players bidding to earn a Blue, the match was the be-all and end-all.
It was a chance to see all the razzmatazz and media interest around the game, and soak up the build-up in preparation of what to expect at the Varsity Match, providing the more inexperienced players the lesson on how to just focus on the rugby.
Therefore, coping with blanking out everything else when the game kicked off was a good learning curve, and, by and large, they dealt with it all well.
When they maintained that attention to the match, they did so impressively; however, when they got caught playing the occasion, their cohesion dropped off and led to space for the Steele-Bodger side to manipulate which fitted in with the ethos of the fixture.
Micky Steele-Bodger has always wanted his team to play an expansive game, and this incarnation were certainly keen to move possession with running rugby.
With that in mind, it probably turns things on its head that one of the most interesting areas was the breakdown.
Referee Wayne Barnes did not once whistle for a penalty, and therefore you were led to question how competitive it was at the contact area or whether a degree of leniency was being shown.
And in truth, a bit of both was probably at play.
It was perhaps not as competitive as you would expect to find in the Varsity Match and while Barnes was maybe a bit more generous than normal, the Light Blues were going about the majority of their work in a very clean and tidy fashion.
It led to multiple turnovers and the ball being kept alive for large parts of the game, and that no doubt pleased many of those in the ground eager to see running rugby.
In turn, that was probably the most eye-catching part of the students’ game; their off-loads and support play.
It started in the eighth minute as Jake Hennessey burst through to touch down, with Mike Phillips adding the conversion.
Phillips then sent a delightful chip over the Bodgers’ defence for Henry King to collect cleanly and race away to score.
The irrepresible Matt Watson then carved open the Bodgers’ defence for the try of the game, with Chris Bell offering a great line on his outside. The scrum-half was just running out of legs as he headed towards the corner, but he had Tyler Hammond providing good support to take the pass and touch down.
Bodgers hit back when Joe Green’s kick through was not gathered and Kwaku Asiedu seized the loose ball to score, with Lawrence Rayner converting to make it 19-5.
But there was more to come from the university at the end of the half, as they moved play across the pitch for Rory Triniman to go round the outside to score and then Watson burst away to touch down under the posts. Phillips finished the half with three conversions to make it 31-7.
With the students scenting tries in the second half, they started to play the occasion a bit more than the match, and that provided the Bodgers with a few more opportunities.
The hosts struck first as Archie Russell’s persistence led to him grounding the ball in the corner after 48 minutes.
Minutes later, a missed tackle on halfway allowed the pacy Asiedu to race clear for his second try.
The match swung the other way and King got his second try in the corner for the Light Blues, and that was followed by another excellent break from Watson, who had Hammond in support to get his second try.
On 73 minutes, Chris Lombaard chipped over the university defence to the corner for Tom Hughes to collect and touch down.
The hosts’ got their final try when play opened up for James Elms to dart through and finish with flair.
But in keeping with the theme of the afternoon and the celebration of the Steele-Bodger XV, they had the final say with a well-worked try as Green made the break before getting the ball away to Tim Bond, and just as he was about to get tackled into the corner, he off-loaded for James Beaufils to pick up and touch down.
So with a final score of 53-22 to the university, there was plenty there for them to take forward to Twickenham – just as was intended from the original conception of the fixture.
Cambridge University: O Phillips; Triniman, Russell, Hennessey, King; M Phillips, Bell; Briggs, Burnett, Dixon, Hunter, Koster, Watson, Hammond, Richardson.
Replacements: Huppatz, Dean, Troughton, Eriksen, Beckett, Rose, Elms, Griffiths, Craib.
Steele-Bodger XV: Green (Cambridge); Banks (Bishop’s Stortford), Burke (Coventry), Lombaard, Asiedu (Coventry); Rayner (Ampthill), Liebenberg (Ampthill); Worrall-Clare (Cambridge), Price (Coventry), Brett (Southwold), Kolakowski (Peterborough), Bond (Old Albanian), Beaufils (Randwick District), Ignarski (Cambridge), Todd (Malone).
Referee: Wayne Barnes.
Scorers: 8min Hennessey try – M Phillips con (7-0), 12 King try (12-0), 16 Hammond try – Phillips (19-0), 20 Asiedu try – Rayner con (19-7), 31 Triniman try (24-5), 48 Russell try (36-7), 51 Asiedu try (36-12), 59 King try (41-12), 66 Hammond try – M Phillips con (48-12), 73 Hughes try (48-17), 76 Elms try (53-17), 79 Beaufils try (53-22).