Job done for Cambridge, but lessons to learn for next year
Mark Taylor casts his eye on the highs and lows of the season
Getting your priorities straight is one of the biggest challenges, and there can be no doubting that Cambridge got theirs spot on this season.
Their return to National League One concluded last Saturday with a 40-15 defeat at home to Plymouth Albion, and the primary objective was achieved – survival.
After taking their time to rebuild and return to National League One, they were never going to instantly enjoy the success of their 2S title-winning season when the approach of “if you score one try, we’ll score two” held sway.
However, they have not deserted their principles of running rugby.
They have earned 18 bonus points for four tries or more in a match, a record that is only usurped by runaway league winners Hartpury College, who have 28.
There are times though when Cambridge seem to have been a bit more restrained, almost within themselves, when they have not gone quite as wide, quite as quickly as they have in previous seasons.
It means that they have made hard yards through the middle of the pitch, and that can be tough to maintain for a full 80 minutes.
You could not say that they have played within themselves, but you do wonder if they have had the handbrake on at certain times in games – and if they have, what may be achievable if it is off permanently.
Although it may be a sin to say it at Volac Park, Cambridge’s kicking game perhaps needs to evolve.
When they have met solid walls that are proving impenetrable, that second option could prove vital.
And it is such a key tool in clearing their defensive lines. The culture of looking after possession is integral to Cambridge’s beliefs, and yet a hefty long boot into the opposition’s half would give them breathing space.
What has been mightily impressive this year is the way that Cambridge have scrummaged as seldom have they been pushed around and bullied off the ball.
David Langley has been the galvanising factor, holding together the front row.
With Ricky Reeves and Dan Seal providing the mentoring role, Langley has been integral and his form has earned him selection for the Wasps A team.
The latter part of the season has also seen the development of Ben Ibrahim, who has looked at ease alongside Langley and Ean Griffiths in the front row, and shows much promise for the future – one of Cambridge’s key focuses in developing talent.
In terms of star performers, Matt Hema is another that has taken his chance with both hands.
Having made the step up from Bury St Edmunds, he has looked at home in National League One – be it in either of the spots in the centres or on the wing.
Hema has brute strength but also a turn of foot that makes it really difficult for opponents to stop him.
And he has been one of the few mainstays in an ever-changing team, and that would be one of the main criticisms of the campaign – the lack of continuity from one week to the next.
It is difficult to remember there being two consecutive games without any changes, and you have to wonder whether that helps or hinders the growth of the team.
Being a bit picky, there is also the feeling that sometimes the replacements are a bit pre-ordained and do not reflect the flow of the game.
But, by and large, Cambridge have to see this season as a success.
It was never going to be easy, but the hard work was done in the first half of the campaign and made sure they had enough points on the board.
With a tightening of the defence, so as not to give away as many easy points to their opposition, there is certainly the talent at the club to suggest they can push on.