Defensive strength gives Cambridge University platform for British Police success
Light Blues impress in 28-14 win at Grange Road
You look for key moments, big or small, that hint at the development of the Cambridge University team in their build-up to the Varsity Match.
They can be attacking passages of play with possession that leap out or little nuances that can be added to the bigger picture of the perfect game-plan.
Twelve months ago, the visit of the British Police to Grange Road was the first time that the Light Blues put out their first-choice pack, and they showed what they may be capable of achieving – which they went on to deliver against Oxford at Twickenham.
For many different reasons, the 2018 renewal against the British Police was just as informative and educational, and it was a 15-minute spell in the first half that should act as the biggest indication of what could be possible this Michaelmas Term.
The visitors had enjoyed a long spell of possession and territory, continually punching at the Light Blues’ line. They were showing patience and not attempting anything rash, just probing and prodding to find a way through – the thing is, they could not break the line.
It was a brilliant and resolute display from the students, who spread out in a blitz defence when the ball went wide, but were just as quick to compact any space around the breakdown.
The passage of play was enthralling, almost like a defence versus attack scenario in training, and if you isolate that period of the game alone, then the coaching staff will have loads to work with.
That the British Police ended the spell with a try should not detract from the effort.
Stephen Leonard had seemed unfortunate to be yellow carded after only a second transgression from Cambridge on the line, and while he was still in the bin, Police fly-half Chris Scott did well to spot a gap in the line to dart through and then score.
Also during that spell though, was the emergence of George Cook and Oliver Gnodde, who were making their Blues bows at Grange Road having impressed in the win at Welsh Academicals.
Second row Cook and outside centre Gnodde slotted into their roles with ease and, in this instance, into the defensive line equally as comfortably, both showing a willingness to put their bodies on the line.
After the pressure had been relieved, it acted as a new wind for the students as their attacking game came to the fore.
Having been camped on their own line for so long, they showed they had not forgotten how to get down the other end.
They did well at a scrum just outside the 22, and Mike Phillips brilliantly kicked to the left wing for Henry King, who caught the ball and then produced a forward roll out of the tackle to touch down. Phillips’ conversion made it 7-7.
And they had the lead by half time as a great break by Chris Bell was recycled superbly to go through the phases for Miles Huppatz to eventually bundle over the line, with the extras making it 14-7.
The university started the second half just as they finished the first and from another solid scrum in the 22, captain Nick Koster picked up off the base and underneath the posts flicked the ball out the back of his hands for the supporting Bell to burst on to and touch down. Phillips’ third successful conversion made it 21-7.
Alan Davies was sin-binned for the British Police in the 62nd minute, and the Light Blues made the numbers tell two minutes later as some great incisive attacking and quick hands spread the defence, moving play across the pitch and back before some good handling by Dan Blick put in Gnodde to score in the corner. Phillips’ kick made it 24-7.
British Police’s Joe Altham and the university’s Sean McMahon were shown yellow cards in the 70th minute, and the visitors got a consolation breakaway try through Russell McKeown, converted by Scott, in the 78th minute.
It was a deserved 28-14 win for the Light Blues though, in what is becoming an invaluable and immensely engaging fixture, and an important stepping stone on the way to Twickenham.
Cambridge University: Blick; Gatus, Gnodde, Hennessey, King; Phillips, Bell; Dean, Huppatz, Dixon, Cook, Eriksen, Hunter, Leonard, Koster.
Replacements: Schusman, MacCallum, Somers, Beckett, Hargreaves, McMahon, Saunders, Baines, Story.
British Police squad: Hancox, Allen, Davies, Phillips, Taylor, Jones, Gerrard, Moody, Mills, Griffiths, Rutledge, Morrow, Logue, Johnson, Moffat, McKeown, Bradford, Young, Francis, Summers, Hardern, Zeiss, Scott, Worthington, Altham.
Referee: Callum Watson.
Scorers: 31min Scott try – Scott con (0-7), 34 King try – Phillips con (7-7), 40+2 Huppatz try – Phillips con (14-7), 49 Bell try – Phillips con (21-7), 64 Gnodde try – Phillips con (28-7), 78 McKeown try – Scott con (28-14).
Sin bin: Cambridge University – Leonard (technical offence, 22), McMahon (foul play, 70); British Police – Davies (technical offence, 62), Altham (foul play, 70).