Conundrums keep coming for Cambridge after defeat to Esher
Cambridge have an off day in National League One
One overwhelming dilemma is continuing to haunt Cambridge in National League One this season, why can they not reproduce their best performances against the sides in and around them?
Defeat to Esher on Saturday will leave Cambridge looking over their shoulder after the recent renaissance of both Blaydon and Hull Ionians, but it is difficult to work out how they have got into this situation.
They have shown any number of times that they can go toe-to-toe with some of the leading clubs in the division, if only to come up just short at the final whistle.
And that standard should mean that when they face the teams in a similar position to themselves, they have more than enough about them to secure the win.
But it is now becoming a theme that they seem unable to raise their game against lower table teams to the same heights to get the job done.
Esher had arrived at Volac Park having not won on the road yet this season, and were below Cambridge in the table.
Yet, by the end of the match, the Surrey club had jumped above their rivals after securing five points thanks to a 36-22 win.
It was a strange match as it appeared that both teams were content to take it in turns to attack and then defend, rather than force the issue.
Cambridge were unusually passive in defence, and that provided Esher with the chance to work relatively easy in possession in the 22.
It was a malaise that spread across the two teams as it felt like there was so little intensity at the breakdown, with no big contests or clear-outs.
Catch and drives were at a premium and untidy when they did occur, while scrums were bitty, that was until Rick Reeves came on to make an immediate impact for Cambridge, twice helping them drive Esher off the ball.
The problem was that momentum did not galvanise the team in other areas.
There were half breaks from Cambridge, but the support play was slower than normal to arrive and that meant they did not have their usual finishing prowess.
And there were just a few too many missed tackles that allowed Esher to make easy yards – and these yards are the ones that have been one of the banes of Cambridge’s season.
The frustration must surely be that Cambridge know they are not a bad side, and yet these ‘blips’ are proving so costly and hampering their progress – it is often one step forward, and then two back.
In this case against Esher, it would have been expected for Cambridge to come out firing after their display at leaders Hartpury College in their last match.
But they did not really get going, and Esher got the first try after 15 minutes through Tom James.
Cambridge’s response was immediate as Matt Hema burst clear on the right wing to touch down little more than a minute later.
A penalty try from a dominant Esher scrum was next, but that was matched four minutes later by Dan Lewis, who spotted the space to dart into for a try and he then added the conversion.
Joseph Brown touched down next for Esher, but Lewis then intercepted a pass on halfway to race clear and touch down beneath the posts, with his extras making it 19-19 at half time.
Sam Stanley kicked a penalty to add to his two conversions to make it 22-19 for Esher, but five minutes later, Lewis levelled the scores with his own kick.
However, tries from Calum Waters and James in the closing seven minutes, both converted by Stanley, sealed Esher’s victory.
Cambridge: Furbank; Hema, Portsmouth, J Ayrton, M Ayrton; Lewis, Trotter; Seal, Griffiths, Langley, Schoeman, Bretag-Norris, Rawlings, Laxton, Read.
Replacements: Reeves (Seal, 47), Meek (Read, 47), Liebenberg (Trotter, 53), Petrides (Portsmouth, 60), Ruddock (Rawlings, 66).
Esher: Davies; Beckett, Brown, Stanley, James; Roberts, Garner; Furey, Sweeney, Zeiss, Edwards, Marriott, Gentles, Cossington, Seccombe.
Replacements: Sutherland (Edwards, 6), Leigh (Beckett, 47), Waters (Leigh, 56), White (Garner, 65), Leigh (Zeiss, 78).
Sin bin: Furey (foul play, 45).
Referee: Anthony Woodthorpe.
Scorers: 15min James try (0-5), 17 Hema try (5-5), 26 penalty try – Stanley con (5-12), 30 Lewis try – Lewis con (12-12), 37 Brown try – Stanley con (12-19), 40+3 Lewis try – Lewis con (19-19), 44 Stanley pen (19-22), 49 Lewis pen (22-22), 78 Waters try – Stanley con (22-29), 80+5 James try – Stanley con (22-36).