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Joe Tarrant try clinches Cambridge victory over Cinderford in absorbing National League One match

Ben Brownlie touched down twice for Cambridge against Cinderford. Picture: Chris Fell
Ben Brownlie touched down twice for Cambridge against Cinderford. Picture: Chris Fell

When an occasion is built up there can be a tendency for the fare to fail to live up to expectations and be a bit anticlimactic.

Not so at Volac Park, where Cambridge won a thoroughly absorbing National League One match against Cinderford 27-21.

There were five points separating the sides in the table going into the game, with the team from the Forest of Dean edging it by one spot in fourth place and, upon leaving the ground at the end of the game, you could understand why both teams are flying high.

In many senses, it felt like watching Cambridge against Cambridge, or Cinderford v Cinderford, such were the similarities in style between the two.

A gritty, stubborn, resolute, determined, uncompromising set of forwards, with the finesse and flair outside them in the backs, and half-back pairings prepared to prod and probe for territory and possession to create a platform.

When you go toe-to-toe with a rival, any marginal gains or upper hands you can get on the opponent are vital but, ultimately, if you do not perform as a team then you do not get a result.

Cambridge’s forwards got through a colossal amount of work at the breakdown, stifling the opportunity for Cinderford fly-half Reece Boughton to get quick ball to orchestrate his backs.

It was a similar story the other way though, as No 10 debutant Harry Johnston was having to live off scraps for the hosts.

The tone of the match could have been set-piece dominated but it was not even that, with a relatively low scrum count all told, which is perhaps a sign of the quality as there were very few dropped passes or loose balls.

This was about a game of territory and, once that had been established, who could make the greatest return from the red zone. Therefore, it became a battle of the line-outs - and there was to be only one winner, Cambridge.

Sometimes statistics do not reflect the full story of a game though, and to read three tries from catch and drives would not do justice to Richie Williams’ side’s overall performance.

It was definitely moulded in the forwards, through that phenomenal work rate, but the backs were vital in making hard yards as well - only they were being battered back at every opportunity by an equally aggressive defensive line.

Slithers of light appeared every now and again, with Joe Tarrant and Will Wand making headway to scythe through, and Jamie Forrester and George Boulton doing similar for Cinderford.

It was just there was so little chance to get play away from the second receiver - such was the case that as Cinderford chased the game late on, George Porter was thrown a pass and told quite simply “carry hard”.

By that point though, you just felt that Cambridge had it within them to see out the closing stages.

It was certainly an even game, but there was this nagging feeling that they may just have another gear to go up to, if required.

The first points were put on the board in the 15th minute by Johnston.

Cambridge, playing into a low sun, went through multiple phases through some big ball-carrying by their forwards, with Billy Walker excelling throughout, and a break by Wand, and that helped them go from their own 22 to the edge of Cinderford’s equivalent before being transgressed against, giving them a relatively straightforward penalty which the new-boy landed.

Five minutes later, under a penalty advantage, Forrester chipped over the Cambridge defence and collected to touch down, with Boughton adding the extras.

Boughton then added a penalty to make it 10-3 to the visitors.

Cambridge got their first try in the 29th minute.

Earning a penalty just inside the Cinderford half, as Johnston kicked to touch Andrew Henderson implored “we score here” and they did just that as the forwards drove over the line, with Ben Brownlie grounding the ball.

But Cinderford had the half-time lead.

A searing break by Forrester put in Ed Sheldon, but he was caught by a brilliant cover tackle from Tarrant. However, they recycled play and Boughton kicked to the right where there was a two against one, and Will Baldwin touched down to make it 15-8.

Nothing drastic needed changing from a Cambridge perspective, just more of the same.

It was all square within seven minutes of the second half as Brownlie finished off more good work from a catch and drive, and Johnston converted.

Boughton landed a penalty for Cinderford to put them back in front but, after a penalty that led to Cinderford’s Matthew Lane being yellow carded, a catch and drive saw Jake McCloud touch down Cambridge’s third try to make it 20-18.

Boughton was at it again, landing another shot at goal to make it 21-20.

However, Cambridge mixed things up for what proved to be their match-winning try in the 67th minute.

Having earned a penalty around halfway, the presumption was they may go for touch but Darryl Veenendaal had other ideas.

A quick tap penalty from the scrum-half got Cambridge on the front foot, and Tarrant received possession to make a dart for the line, crossing near the far corner and Johnston converted to make it 27-21.

There was still a long spell for the hosts to see out and, despite having Henry Peck sin-binned, they did so with relative ease - but a lot of hard work and huge tackles - outside the 22.

Matt Hema’s brilliant defence, assisted by Johnston, to turn over possession at the edge of the 22 and a big scrum a man light saw them kick for touch to signal the end of the match.

In a game which could have gone either way, it was a deserved victory for Cambridge, with a try bonus point to boot.

Cambridge: Tarrant; Green, Wand, Hema, Henderson; Johnston, Duffin; Peck, Brownlie, Walker, Frost, Baxter, Bretag-Norris, Dawson, Adams.

Replacements: Maka (Adams, 51), McCloud (Dawson, 51), Veenendaal (Duffin, 61), Alexis (Walker, 73), Walker (Henderson, 80).

Cinderford: Wilcox; Baldwin, Forrester, Boulton, Sheldon; Bougton, Williams; Porter, Taylor, Elliott, Jerrium, Gilbert, Dancer, Preece, Hone.

Replacements: Lane (Gilbert, 45), Angell (Baldwin, 62), Brockett (Elliott, 69), Baldwin (Preece, 70), Gilbert (Jerrium, 75), Baker (Taylor, 75).

Referee: Jonathan Cook.

Sin bin: Cambridge - Peck (technical offence, 80); Cinderford - Lane (technical offence, 60).

Scorers: 15min Johnston pen (3-0), 20 Forrester try - Boughton con (3-7), 23 Boughton pen (3-10), 29 Brownlie try (8-10), 33 Baldwin try (8-15), 46 Brownlie try - Johnston (15-15), 53 Boughton pen (15-18), 59 McCloud try (20-18), 64 Boughton pen (20-21), 67 Tarrant try - Johnston con (27-21).

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