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Expressive display from Cambridge to defeat Sale FC in National League One

Andrew Henderson scored Cambridge's first try against Sale FC. Picture: Keith Heppell
Andrew Henderson scored Cambridge's first try against Sale FC. Picture: Keith Heppell

It would not be a normal Saturday afternoon at Volac Park if Cambridge did not make life hard for themselves at the end of a game in National League One.

Having impressively built up a 37-17 lead by the 62nd minute, you wondered whether they could target the half-century, given the way their attacking game was firing.

But as four of their previous five games had been decided by fewer than seven points, why break a newly-formed habit, as a cheap yellow card meant they faced the last 10 minutes a man light.

It is by no means aimed at detracting from Sale’s comeback, they stuck to the task and did not get distracted by the scoreboard racing away from them.

They focused on playing their own game, chipping away to get bonus points and reeling in the hosts - and it nearly worked as they finished just six points shy of Cambridge in a 37-31 defeat.

In some ways it is difficult to fathom where the 68 points - constituting 11 tries, five conversions and one penalty - came from as it was not a match that particularly ebbed and flowed, with the forwards putting in some hard yards.

It was more a case of 22 bingo, each time a team entered the red zone, it felt as if they got some rewards - although official stats may suggest otherwise.

There was definitely a lot to like about the way Cambridge attacked though, as there was a cavalier style to their game.

Two tries particularly stood out from their six, and for very different reasons.

It was difficult not to enjoy the fifth try in the 60th minute.

Andrew Henderson fielded a clearance on halfway and passed to full-back Joe Tarrant, who scythed through the defence and drew the last man to find the supporting Matt Dawson, playing in an unaccustomed role in the second row, to touch down.

Just as good, for much more workmanlike reasons, was the sixth try a minute later.

Rather than being aesthetically pleasing, it was the level of support and offloads that were impressive as Jake McCloud, Tarrant, Zac Nearchou and Fin Creighton all helped the continuity to get play to Ned Brown to touch down.

It was perhaps reflective of the graft produced by Cambridge throughout the game, as they worked very hard for each other.

Dawson was deservedly named sponsors’ man of the match having been asked to fill in at second row in training on Thursday night due to a dearth of locks, but there were also other contenders.

When you have such a tireless pack, they need support from some astute game management, especially in windy conditions.

Kieran Duffin and Ben Penfold did exactly that, prodding and probing to get Sale turning.

Penfold nudged in behind the visitors to put them on the back foot on numerous occasions in the first half, and a word must go to Rhodri Adamson, who, out of position on the wing, led the kick chase to make sure there were no easy outs.

The new decade is also proving prolific for Penfold.

Having waited 96 games to get his first try for the club, which came against Cinderford in January, he got his second to earn Cambridge the bonus point on the day.

Sale also impressed in spells, with their use of the ball along the line keeping Cambridge stretched and a strong scrum that perhaps did not bring the rewards from which they may have hoped.

They got the opening try after six minutes as Jonty Rawcliffe broke down the middle, and play went wide through three pairs of hands for Jack Moorhouse to touch down.

Henderson ran clear from halfway after 10 minutes to score for Cambridge, and Penfold’s conversion and penalty, five minutes later, made it 10-5.

Henderson seized on a Sale offload after 19 minutes to set up an attack, and through recycling and stretching the defence, it led to Matt Hema throwing a dummy to touch down.

The scoring ratio was maintained as Sale set up a catch and drive for Matt Talaese to touch down to reduce the arrears to 17-10.

Cambridge went into the break with a 22-10 lead as Dawson made a run on the diagonal following a line-out and play was spread wide for Tarrant to score.

Sale narrowed the deficit to five points at the start of the second half as Jarad Williams got the ball away for Rhys Davies to power through and touch down.

Then came the golden period for Cambridge as they pulled clear with the tries from Penfold, Dawson and Brown in seven minutes making it 37-17.

However, Tarrant was yellow carded and it was probably the invitation such a resilient and determined Sale team needed.

A catch and drive from a line-out in the 70th minute led to Johnny Leota touching down, and Chris Johnson’s conversion made it 37-24.

A pass out the back of the hand by Tom Brady ended with Rawcliffe going over in the corner in the 76th minute, giving them four minutes to find another converted score for the win.

However, Cambridge’s defence rose to the challenge, preventing them getting involved in the 22 bingo by withstanding the pressure outside the red zone and earning a penalty to turn over possession.

They tapped the penalty and worked possession back to Lawrence Rayner, who cleared the ball out of play to confirm a deserved win for Cambridge, despite Sale’s late comeback.

Cambridge: Tarrant; Adamson, Hema, Brown, Henderson; Penfold, Duffin; Meek, Mayhew, Culverhouse, Bretag-Norris, Dawson, McCloud, Tunney, Adams.

Replacements: Nearchou (Culverhouse, 44), Sloot (Tunney, 61), Creighton (Duffin, 61), Priestley (Mayhew, 65), Rayner (Penfold, 68).

Sale FC: Mulchrone; Moorhouse, Leota, An Van, Rawcliffe; Johnson, Bradley; Birchall, Longmore, Talaese, Davies, Priestley-Nangle, Barron, Hughs, Williams.

Replacements: Brady (Mulchrone, 51), Pope (Birchall, 51), Matthews (Talaese, 54), Calle Rivas (Moorhouse, 63), Birchall (Longmore, 64), Moorhouse (Ah Van, 74).

Scorers: 6min Moorhouse try (0-5), 10 Henderson try - Penfold con (7-5), 15 Penfold pen (10-5), 19 Hema try - Penfold con (17-5), 37 Talaese try (17-10), 40+5 Tarrant try (22-10), 51 Davies try - Johnson con (22-17), 54 Penfold try (27-17), 60 Tarrant try (32-17), 62 Brown try (37-17), 70 Leota try - Johnson con (37-24), 77 Rawcliffe try - Johnson con (37-31).

Sin bin: Cambridge - Tarrant (technical offence, 69).

Referee: Hamish Grant.

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