Free-flowing Cambridge beat Bishop’s Stortford to end home National League One campaign on a high
Chaotic, erratic and try-laden it was an action-packed home send-off to a successful National League One season as Cambridge earned a 41-19 win over Bishop’s Stortford.
From the first minute to the very last you could not take your eyes off the pitch as a full house was treated to an afternoon of running rugby.
There were 10 tries in total, plenty of yellow cards, and a host of penalties which made it seem like every time a team attacked, they touched down.
A hefty wind and a rock hard surface meant that the concept of playing for territory to grind down the opposition was never going to be an option - this was about being short, sharp and decisive.
There is no doubt both sets of coaching staff will be frustrated by the lack of structure to the game - contests at the breakdown were few and far between, and the ball did not stay long in the set piece either - but with nothing too meaningful riding on the result for either side you would hope they would cut their players a bit of slack given the easy-on-the-eye outcome it created.
The unrelenting nature started inside the first minute, when Stortford conceded their first penalty - it was to prove a busy afternoon for referee Nikki O’Donnell with the whistle - and Cambridge kicked for touch.
When that happens the next bit usually occurs too, as Ben Brownlie burrowed over for a try from the line-out.
Lawrence Rayner made the most of the conditions being in Cambridge’s favour in the first half, kicking to good effect to try to turn the Stortford defence and it reaped rewards in the fifth minute.
He lofted one up in the air and the Stortford full-back lost the flight of the ball and the bounce, allowing Will Wand to pounce to dart through to score. Rayner added a second conversion to make it 14-0.
It was not like Stortford were permanently on the back foot, it was just that when they got into promising positions they surrendered possession a bit too easily, with their line-out not functioning at all well all afternoon.
Having had a spell of defending, Cambridge burst out of their ranks, first through Rayner and then Kieran Duffin, and Harry Morley then seized on a bouncing ball to break through to score.
It had become a niggly match, with a couple of set tos, and the first yellow card came in the 38th minute for a technical offence on the line from Stortford’s Will Roberts just as Kieran Frost seemed set to score.
However, the bonus-point winning fourth try did arrive a minute later, as Duffin got possession from the base of a scrum to touch down and make it 26-0 at half time.
Stortford were down to 13 at the start of the second half after Tom McCrone was sin-binned for an unknown offence on 40 minutes which was listed as foul play on the official match card.
That did not tell at the start of the second period though, as Stortford made a bright start and reduced the arrears with a penalty try, awarded for a high tackle by Matt Hema on the visitors’ James Ayrton. It was an offence that was to earn the Cambridge man a yellow card.
Ten minutes later, Toby Knight peeled off the back of a scrum for Stortford to touch down, and Dan Cole landed the conversion to make it 26-14.
There was an immediate riposte from Cambridge as Joe Tarrant made the break and then went wide right for Joey Green to skip away to dot down in the corner.
There was a bit of a breather for 10 minutes, and then the unrelenting nature returned.
A tap penalty on five minutes saw Stortford hit the line on three occasions before Harrison King eventually grounded the ball to make it 31-19.
Frost was then sin-binned for Cambridge for a technical offence as the penalty count ticked up, and they were down to 13 when Andrew Henderson was deemed to have committed a deliberate knock-on when attempting to catch a pass just inside the 22.
However, from nothing, Ben Adams turned over possession at the breakdown and then surged clear to score a crucial try that gave the hosts some breathing space in the last five minutes being two men down.
Little did they need it though as just outside his own 22, Hema emerged from a breakdown with possession and breezed past an attempted challenge on halfway before off-loading to Jake Garside to sprint away to do the rest for Cambridge’s seventh try.
It brought to an end a breathless game as Cambridge deservedly signed off on a high in front of their own supporters, with a trip away to Rams awaiting to conclude the campaign next week.
Cambridge: Tarrant; Henderson, Wand, Hema, Asiedu; Rayner, Duffin; Morley, Brownlie, Walker, Frost, Baxter, Bretag-Norris, Adams, Maka.
Replacements: Henderson (Asiedu, 49), McCloud (Bretag-Norris, 52), Garside (Duffin, 55), Peck (Morley, 56), Priestley (Brownlie, 65).
Bishop’s Stortford: Walker; Morris, Ayrton, Pope, Stannard; Cole, Bryan; Roberts, Rayment, McCrone, Charter, Thacker, Lewis, Wrafter, Knight.
Replacements: Brownhill (Stannard, 38), Cullen (Walker, 41), Mathews (Lewis, 42), Stannard (Roberts, 49), King (Rayment, 55), Jones (Thacker, 55), Roberts (Matthews, 78), Walker (Pope, 80).
Scorers: 2min Brownlie try - Rayner con (7-0), 6 Wand try - Rayner con (14-0), 23 Morley try - Rayner con (21-0), 40 Duffin try (26-0), 45 penalty try (26-7) 55 Knight try - Cole con (26-12), 57 Green trt (31-14), 71 King try (31-19), 80 Adams try (36-19), 80+6 Garside try (41-19).
Referee: Nikki O’Connell.
Sin bin: Cambridge - Hema (technical offence, 45), Frost (foul play, 74), Henderson (technical offence, 77); Bishop’s Stortford - Roberts (technical offence, 38), McCrone (foul play, 40).