Forward power drives Cambridge to win over Ampthill
Another top-four scalp in the bag
Fighting fire with fire proved to be the perfect plan for Cambridge as they executed a textbook 20-8 win over Ampthill in National League One.
The Bedfordshire team are renowned as being a strong forwards-focussed side, and on a heavy Volac Park pitch, it could be anticipated that it would be a battle of the tight eights.
The fact that is how things transpired is no surprise, therefore, but it will perhaps be a surprise to those not present that it was the Cambridge pack that had superiority.
Led by Darren Fox, the Cambridge forwards dug deep, stifling the attempted pick and drives from the visitors to leave them trying to battle away in the middle third of the pitch.
Ampthill’s route to the line was clearly to kick long and put pressure on the Cambridge set piece, but there was to be no creaking in those departments.
The line-out work has been very good all season, but what particularly impressed against Ampthill was the scrum, and in particular the front row.
As a collective, Harry Morley, hooker Ean Griffiths and Shane Moynihan were immense.
There was no platform for Ampthill, a side do not forget that prides itself on its forwards, as they were either driven off their own put-in or forced backwards, with no ability to get quick ball.
Moynihan has come from nowhere to be a real force in National League One, never letting his side down and proving to be a key cornerstone at tight-head prop.
As for Morley, he was superb. There was very little in it between the two Cambridge props, but Morley’s class really shone through.
You could see the ability that had led to him playing in the Championship with Nottingham, as he was constantly putting his opposite number under pressure at the set piece.
Once he decided to flex his muscle, it seemed like a turbo boost to Cambridge and saw them power on. And he was equally as effective in the loose.
There were also valuable contributions in the front row from replacements Alex Rayment, Ben Ibrahim and Matt Meek, who has done great work in converting to a prop from the back row this season.
It is not to lessen the input of any of the team, however, as this was a solid defensive performance, with glimpses of the attacking flair that may well have flourished on a different day, and a harder pitch.
Credit too, must go to the Ampthill coaching staff. So often when a side is being put under the cosh at the set piece their coaching team resort to appealing for all sorts from the officials, but Ampthill showed the true spirit of the game.
They appeared to just know that on this occasion they were being beaten by the better team, and better scrum, and did not resort to hopeful appealing; a key point that deserves recognition and should be applauded.
As well as the set piece, the breakdown play and defensive work impressed and was probably as good as they have performed on their home turf this season.
It was like the days of yore for Fox, and his more youthful charges are willingly following in his footsteps, fighting and battling for everything, even what look like lost causes.
A word must also go to scrum-half Cameron Keenan, who marshalled his troops well and was a superb defensive presence.
It was a defensive line that had been penetrated after just four minutes though, when three penalties in quick succession by Cambridge had led to an Ampthill catch and drive which Nigel Baker finished off.
Cambridge battled back up the other end of the pitch, and responded through Ben Penfold’s 16th-minute penalty, and the fly-half struck again in the 29th minute.
Some great improvisation in the 35th minute saw Albert Portsmouth kick up a ball on the floor, which Oli Petrides then showed a great pair of hands to claim, before racing away to score in the corner, with Penfold converting for 13-5.
After half time, good patience along the line saw play reach Portsmouth and he rolled a tackle before then getting the ball down, with Penfold converting.
James Pritchard kicked a penalty for Ampthill in the 65th minute to get back within two scores, but try as they might, with the wind in their favour, there was no way through the solid Cambridge defence.
And it meant that Cambridge chalked up another success over a top-four side.
Cambridge: Ayrton; Petrides, Portsmouth, Hema, Elvers; Penfold, Keenan; Morley, Griffiths, Moynihan, Bretag-Norris, Conquest, Fox, Laxton, McCloud.
Replacements: Meek (Moynihan, 54), Peters (Bretag-Norris, 58), Rayment (Griffiths, 66), Stanway (Elvers, 78), Ibrahim (Morley, 78).
Ampthill: Pritchard; Lynch, Hanks, Strachan, Baker; Rayner, Barrett; Culverhouse, Fish, Garside, Gulliver, Johnson, Blackmore, Bercis, Molitika.
Replacements: Thornton (Culverhouse, 40), Allman (Molitika, 40), Weightman (Strachan, 52), Culverhouse (Garside, 58), Molitika (Gulliver, 62), Dawson (Fish, 67), Liebenberg (Barrett, 78).
Sin bin: Ampthill – Blackmore (technical offence, 28).
Referee: Gareth Holsgrove.
Scorers: 4min Baker try (0-5), 16 Penfold pen (3-5), 29 Penfold pen (6-5), 35 Petrides try – Penfold con (13-5), 53 Portsmouth try – Penfold con (20-5), 65 Pritchard pen (20-8).