Blue Monday

Zach Brown - Sports Editor 23 October 2009

Cambridge 24 Saracens 35

A much improved blues side couldn’t quite do enough despite a valiant second half fight back against Saracens. Playing with more confidence and belief then last week, the performance lacked the precision and organisation of a fully professional outfit, but Captain Dan Vickerman will take heart in the resolve that was shown by the team in the second half.

Before the game scrum half Doug Rowe told The Cambridge Student (TCS): “We have worked on defence and one on one tackling this week. We are all hoping that we can up the aggression and really be physical with the opposition. I think last week there was perhaps a lack of belief that we could compete let alone win against Northampton – people were reading their team sheet and see England A and full Scotland caps in the team prior to actually playing them.”

They certainly competed on Monday night; the Blues going some way towards putting the previous week’s crucifixion at the hands of The Saint’s entirely behind them. It was a split performance, with a cacophony of errors in the first half frustrating positive forward work and a few periods of pressure. However, a vast improvement after the break saw Cambridge fight back from twenty-five points behind to a far more respectable 35- 24.

Cambridge were slow coming out of the blocks, forced to soak up ten minutes of sustained pressure from the Premiership leaders. Pinned down inside their own twenty-two, it only took one missed tackle for Adam Powell to skip through the line and open up the scoring beneath the posts. A collective groan in the stands anticipated another drubbing for the Blues.

Unforced errors began to pile up. Jamie Hood was embarrassed by a wonky clearance that ultimately resulted in a second score for Saracens. Errant passes and sloppy offloading belied the good work put in by the powerful pack, communication breaking down at the back of the scrum in particular.

The university side were too narrow in their defensive positioning with Saracens playing much wider overlapping on both wings at times. It was one such instance that allowed Saracens catch Cambridge lacking cover and to escape down the left for their third.The scoreline was beginning to look decidedly one sided.

However Cambridge’s reaction was to keep the ball protected by their powerful pack.The Captain led by example supported magnificently by his fellow lock Will Jones who from this point on was an increasingly dominant figure in the forward melee. Though Cambridge bossed the final ten minutes of the half, Saracens showed their class by keeping Cambridge out in a period of sustained pressure that illustrated both the potential of the Cambridge squad and their propensity for unforced errors. This was underlined on the stroke of half time when Powell again passed all too easily through the Cambridge line to leave the score at an uncomfortable 28 – 3 to the visitors.

Vickerman’s message at half time was that the Blues needed to toughen up: especially in the 10/12 channel where Hood and Burden had been exposed more than once. The message clearly went over. Cambridge looked a different side after the break,Will Jones crossing the line early on.

Showing the determination and vigour called for by Vickerman, Cambridge battled hard and made far fewer mistakes.Despite a missed penalty, they looked the more composed of the two sides, with errors now beginning to creep into the Saracens game. The Blues’ set-piece work was also in the ascendance, Vickerman and Jones rising commandingly to take the ball at almost every lineout.

Unfortunately for the Blues it seemed they were able to find the holes in the Saracens defence but lacked the killer instinct to convert their good work into points; scrum half Doug Rowe and number 8 Ben Maidment managing to break dramatically through the Saracens defence before disappointing the crowd with careless offloading .

Overall Cambridge were working well and were again desperately unfortunate when visiting winger James Short evaded the Cambridge defence to add to Saracens tally, Farrell easily converting.

Again Cambridge showed heart, steeling themselves to fight on. Try saving tackles went in Ed White of Jesus college particularly impressing. In the final ten minutes it was end to end stuff – the crowd really coming to life for the first time in the evening.Finally Cambridge got their breakthrough fly half Jamie Hood weaving through Storm’s defence in a fine individual effort.And there was yet more to come from the Light Blues.Four minutes into injury time James Greenwood thundered down the left to the delight of the crowd and you had the feeling that if the match had lasted just another ten minutes Cambridge might have been able to turn the visitors over.

It was not to be though and it was a worn out and weary Cambridge side that left the pitch. Though they fought hard the task they had set themselves with the poor first half performance was too much to surmount.

Speaking after the game Will Jones said “We’re bitterly disappointed obviously, as Dan said we could have won that, there is no reason why we couldn’t have beaten that team and I think in the second half we showed that.

Summing up his thoughts Dan Vickerman told TCS it was “…a marked improvement from last week obviously last week we had quite a big loss against Northampton and had a few injuries out there and the guys who came in did a fantastic job. But we’ve still got to play for 80 minutes; I think we let ourselves down in the first half.” Looking forward to a tough couple of weeks in training Vickerman said “We need to cut out those errors if we can do that we’d be a much improved side.”

Zach Brown – Sports Editor