Oli Petrides flies in for Cambridge try double to help school Loughborough Students
Oli Petrides made an eye-catching return to the first-team fold for Cambridge on Saturday.
The winger/centre has spent much of this season in the second team, making just two appearances for the first XV.
And having been handed the No 11 jersey to face Loughborough Students at Volac Park on Saturday, it was his first home start of the campaign.
Petrides, though, took the opportunity to shine with both hands – playing a key role in Cambridge’s 25-22 win.
In the 62nd minute, with the score at 13-8 to Cambridge, James Ayrton made a searing break from his own half before passing to Jake McCloud just short of the line.
Ayrton got back up to take a return pass from McCloud in the tackle and then galloping through to be put in on the outside to dot down in the corner was Petrides.
After Thibaud Flament’s try had brought Loughborough back to within three points, Petrides pounced again, finishing off a free-slowing and eye-catching passage of play for his second try.
“I started on the left, but got called over by the ringmaster Ben Penfold and get on the inside, and managed to get back up again to get the ball in my hands again so I thought I’d take that,” said the winger.
“The boys have had a tough couple of weeks, and I’ve obviously come in for my first game for a while so it’s nice to get a couple of tries on the scoreboard to help us get over with a pretty close win.
“That’s my first home start, so it’s nice to get on that bandwagon. In the past two seasons I have been there or thereabouts but this season I have been slogging it out and so it’s been nice to get back in and keep that going.
“Hopefully we can build and make this a bit more of a fortress – we’ve been struggling here but we’ve been really good on the road. From now, I think we can take it as a first stepping stone and go from here.
“We didn’t play our best rugby but I think that shows that the grit of our team that we can still not play our best rugby and still manage to come out on top against a Loughborough team who came out pretty hard in the second half.”
Petrides’ second try, and to a slightly lesser extent his first, showed what Cambridge are capable of achieving.
It really was a great team effort, with some subtle offloads and passes in the tackle, not to mention some great support play – which is also why his first try also deserves praise.
In those moments it felt as if Cambridge were playing without fear, casting off the shackles to show the abundance of flair that flows through the squad.
Finding a way to balance that with a more rigid defensive discipline has been the dilemma for Cambridge this season, but those two instances act as a timely reminder, in the final match of the year, of the talent that flows through the squad.
It means that the bar has been set for 2019 – match the home form to the away form, and know when the right time is to play almost carefree rugby for those line breaks.
It was a harum-scarum end to the game though as Loughborough are not backwards in coming forwards with their attacking zeal.
Their youthful enterprise and pace saw them push Cambridge to the wire, and maybe make the game closer than it should have been.
Ben Penfold had landed two penalties to put Cambridge 6-0 up inside five minutes, and a good break from Kieran Duffin led to Ean Griffiths touching down inside nine minutes, with the conversion making it 13-0.
But Loughborough fought back and Alex Gashan’s ingenuity saw them cut the lead to 13-5 at the break.
What followed in the second half was a far more frantic and end-to-end affair, with Petrides’ tries countered by Flament’s score, a Charlie Reed penalty and Harry Priestner’s touch down.
Cambridge did hold on for the win though, and it lifts them up to 11th in the table.
“We focussed this week on players just relaxing and at times just seemed on edge,” said Cambridge head coach Richie Williams. “We got in front and almost didn’t know what to do.
“There is still loads and loads of work that we have to do after Christmas, but there are signs – like with the third try – that show what we can do when we keep the ball for periods.
“The players are skilled enough to do that, and good enough to execute but at too many times we gave away soft possession and that probably manifested itself in how we played in certain moments in that second half.”
He added: “Credit to Loughborough as they bely their league position. Every season they keep the ball on the pitch and challenge defences with how they play so we’re really pleased to come away with four points.”