Perfect 10 as Cambridge University RUFC complete Armed Forces hat-trick by beating Royal Navy
As finales go, it does not get much better than the display that Cambridge University delivered to defeat the Royal Navy 36-15 at Grange Road.
It is like a roll call of achievements from their last match of the academic year.
Flying winger Fergus Jemphrey scored a hat-trick of tries, the Light Blues earned a Lent Term Armed Forces treble after previous victories over the RAF and Army A, and the students made it 10 wins in a row, a rare feat which it is believed may have last been done back in 1983/84.
All three, though, are a product of the calibre of rugby that the students have produced in their five matches since the turn of the year, and that is down to the strength of the team bond they have created.
The Lent Term can often provide selection posers, with some of the Blues not putting themselves forward for selection, but it has not happened this year as the majority of the victorious Varsity Match squad have been all too eager to get back in the light blue shirt.
It has helped engender an as one spirit which is encapsulated by the ferocity of the defence, the backbone of their performances.
The Royal Navy are at the stage of their evolution as a side that the university tends to be at during their early matches in the Michaelmas Term.
They are pulling together as a squad to work out patterns and combinations that will stand them in good stead for their Inter-Services matches against the RAF and the Army.
And, in their first game of the season, they certainly provided the sternest of the Forces’ tests for the students and you could definitely see the promise that could come to the fore with a bit of match sharpness as they develop their game.
The problem was they were up against a well-drilled, well-honed university team that seems to pride itself on its defence.
The visitors knocked on the door for the first five minutes of the game, camping in the students’ 22, but they were continuously repelled by some big hits. Eventually, the Royal Navy opted to get some points on the board and Jordan Gott slotted over a penalty.
It was captain Stephen Leonard that led by example, setting the standard that his team-mates were only too keen to follow.
The thing is with this university side that you can fix your gaze for five minutes on one individual and be impressed by their work-rate and overall play, and miss out on another doing exactly the same.
It may sound strange to an outsider, but the absence of former international players James Horwill and Flip van der Merwe has not been felt as Rowan Beckett and Olly Smart have stepped up to the mark.
However, Smart was ruled out through injury against the Navy and, in his place, Zac Bischoff slotted in seamlessly.
Sometimes you wonder whether the students will match the physicality of the Forces teams, but this Lent Term there has been no doubt about that as they have pushed their opponents back beyond the gain line with what appears ease at times, earning penalties as they go.
This has then opened the door to their attacking game, which has quite simply been a joy to watch.
There has been an artistry about the way they have opened up the pitch, led by Al Gliksten, Chris Bell and the unheralded but invaluable Mike Phillips, to allow the likes of Jemphrey and full-back Joey Gatus to flourish, with both ending with eight tries, though in Gatus’ case from a game fewer.
Jemphrey had raced in for his first try to give the university the lead after eight minutes, but Gatus’ effort probably ranks up there as one of the tries of the academic year, at least for the purist.
When you watch drills in training or warm-up, you witness the off-loads, support play and running lines that are supposed to be delivered during matches. The key part here being no opposition to stop the flow or rhythm.
What the university did in the 14th minute was mirror that in a game situation. Flood support, decoy runners, it was heads-up rugby at its finest, with Bell getting the final pass away for Gatus to score.
It is a huge credit to not just the players to execute such a move, but also head coach James Shanahan for the work to put such patterns in place.
The third try in the 29th minute was almost just as good, with continuity, support and offloads seeing the ball moved from Jemphrey to Beckett to Tom Walton, who has also excelled this term, to touch down.
It was 19-3 at half time, and the Light Blues increased their lead five minutes after the break through a more agricultural approach, a catch and drive at a line-out ended with Leonard touching down.
Given the stage of the Royal Navy’s campaign, you could see the promise they possess - which is what these games are about for them, taking things from the performance rather than the result - as they worked play along the line for winger Henry Hughes to touch down.
The Royal Navy had a big squad that included Northampton Saints’ Fijian World Cup player Sam Matavesi, so you did wonder whether the university may tire as the game, but that should not have been doubted.
More free-flowing rugby put in Jemphrey to sprint clear from halfway, leaving his opponent trailing in his wake to touch down after 60 minutes.
The winger’s hat-trick was completed seven minutes later as he broke away out wide this time after a turnover in midfield.
The Royal Navy had the final say, Elliott Woodhead pouncing through a pack of bodies to touch down.
But the night belonged to the Light Blues, and it was a fitting farewell for club stalwarts Miles Huppatz, Rory Triniman, Bell and Phillips in their final games for the club.
Cambridge University: Gatus; Baines, Triniman, Phillips, Jemphrey; Bell, Gliksten; Collins, Huppatz, Harborne, Beckett, Bischoff, Walton, Smeaton, Leonard.
Replacements: Schusman, Kasem, Cook, Tola-Obembe, Saunders, Laing, Story.
Starting XV: AET Gott; MNE Glidden, MNE Baker, MNE Raumakita, L/Cpl Gobey; AET Rutter, MNE Petersen; ET(ME) Cleverley, LA(AH) Barnaschone, AB(SEA) Allton, AET Wilkinson, LS(HM) Kirwan, MNE Scott, MNE Bonnick, S/Lt Johnson RN.
Replacements: PO(CIS) Norish, LET(ME) Williams, OC Scoot, S/Lt Holt RN, AB(EW) Lindsay, Lt Martin RM, AB(UW) White, AB(SC) Kava, Bugler Burgess, S/Lt Woodhead, AB (AWW) Hanley, ET(ME) Duffy, AET Mills, LAET(M) Carter, LH(AWT) Jeacock, Surg Lt Hughes RN, AB (SEA) Matavesi.
Scorers: 6min Gott pen (0-3), 8 Jemphrey try (5-3), 14 Gatus try - Phillips con (12-3), 29 Walton try - Phillips con (19-3), 45 Leonard try (24-3), 57 Hughes try - Gott con (24-8), 60 Jemphrey try (29-8), 67 Jemphrey try - Phillips con (36-8), 80+1 Woodhead try - Gott con (36-15).
Referee: Callum Watson.
Sin bin: Cambridge University - Huppatz (foul play, 40+2).
More by this authorMark Taylor