Jack Green kicks Cambridge to victory over Plymouth Albion
Impressive victory for hosts in National League One
A brilliant display from the forwards helped Cambridge secure a 16-14 win over Plymouth Albion in a hard-fought game at Volac Park.
It was tough going on a heavy pitch with a strong wind, and it made it a match of attrition, with both sides having to dig deep into the reserves.
The conditions were not conducive to fast-flowing rugby, with passing along the line very much at a premium.
And it was arguably in the first half where the game was won by Cambridge.
Playing into the wind, they made a stoic defence of their line with the 22 becoming an almost de facto try-line such was their ‘cross-at-no-cost’ approach to defence.
That restricted the visitors to just two converted tries, while Rob Conquest was able to touch down for the hosts, and Ben Penfold added a conversion and a penalty.
It meant that Cambridge went in at half time only 14-10 behind, knowing they would then have the wind in their favour, and they used it to peg top-four side Plymouth in their own territory for the majority of the half.
They were unable to cross the whitewash, but the pressure all-round the pitch led to Plymouth conceding penalties, and Jack Green was twice able to take advantage to nudge Cambridge in front.
But the platform for the win was provided in the forwards, and in particular the decision-making.
It was impossible not to notice the strength of the Cambridge line-out, both defensively and offensively.
From all but one of the throws by either Ean Griffiths or Alex Rayment, Cambridge sealed possession and were able to make some ground. And as much as anything else, that was down to the calls they were making.
In conditions as difficult as these to predict for the thrower, the call was to keep it simple and make sure that they kept the ball.
It sounds so simple but is difficult to perfect; as Plymouth showed at least twice in the second half when Cambridge players seized on a loose ball to make some hard yards.
There was also a demonstration of scrum force, with the tight five of Harry Morley, Griffiths, Shane Moynihan, George Bretag-Norris and Conquest not giving an inch to their opponents, who were really feeling the squeeze.
The back row of Darren Fox, Kiefer Laxton and Jake McCloud were as any side would hope, scavenger-like and disruptive at the backdown, and Fox and McCloud really shone.
Fox rolled back the years to with a hard-edged performance, proving a fearsome force at the breakdown, while McCloud offers Cambridge a different dynamic.
His speed from the back of the scrum gives them some great go-forward ball, and though he would not fulfil the typical No 8 mould in a physical sense, it masks the strength that he possesses.
And what was equally as impressive was Cambridge’s ability to see out the game.
They did not panic or go off in search of another try; they trusted in their systems and decision makers in all areas of the pitch to do what was right.
That was after Plymouth had taken the lead in the 18th minute.
Some ingenuity from winger Harrison Cully cleverly goe a pass away under the posts to Matt Shepherd to touch down, with former Cambridge fly-half Dan Mugford adding the conversion.
But from a line-out, Cambridge showed great patience to go through multiple phases for Conquest to get the ball over the line, and Penfold got the extras.
After such hard work, Plymouth’s second try was a relatively cheap one for Cambridge to concede as a poor clearance kick was collected by Mugford, who then passed outside for Dean Squire to race away to score, and the conversion was also successful.
But Penfold added a penalty just before half time to cut the arrears to 14-10.
And then, after the break, penalties from Green in the 61st and 68th minutes earned Cambridge a narrow but deserved victory.
Cambridge: M Ayrton; Collard, Portsmouth, Hema, Elvers; Penfold, Barker; Morley, Griffiths, Moynihan, Bretag-Norris, Conquest, Fox, Laxton, McCloud.
Replacements: Rayment (Griffiths, 53), Green (Penfold, 57), Keenan (Barker, 57), Peters (Bretag-Norris, 61), Worrall-Clare (Moynihan, 68).
Plymouth Albion: Shepherd; Crosscombe, Raumakita, Squire, Cully; Mugford, Snow; Chapman, Freestone, Pullinger-Ham, Holmes, Kelly, Mills, Daly, Grace.
Replacements: Stupple (Daly, 67), Setter (Snow, 67), Armitage (Chapman, 68), Gott (Cully, 71), Salter (Freestone, 71).
Referee: James Philip Clarke.
Sin bin: Plymouth Albion – Kelly (technical offence, 72).
Scorers: 18min Shepherd try – Mugford con (0-7), 29 Conquest try – Penfold con (7-7), 31 Squire try – Mugford con (7-14), 40+2 Penfold pen (10-14), 61 Green pen (13-14), 68 Green pen (16-14).