Cambridge assert Doxbridge Dominance

Tom Woolford 25 January 2008

The blues won this tricky encounter in spite of their many sloppy handling errors. The scoreline could have been more emphatic.

That aside, Cambridge’s errors in attack combined with Durham’s ability to make their few scoring chances count, made this match an exciting spectacle that lit up a dreary and sodden Grange Road.

The early exchanges set the tone of much of the match. Cambridge had an overlap down the left flank on three minutes, but a knock-on brought a swift end to the attack. Durham had to invest men heavily in repeated mauls around the half-way line to counter the Cambridge pack’s greater weight and strength. As a result, Durham never looked like penetrating the Cambridge defence, but fullback O’Toole, who had an excellent game, opened the scoring with a penalty after 6 minutes. Another missed overlap chance for Cambridge and another converted penalty for Durham indicated a potentially frustrating day-at-the-office for the blues in their first match since the triumph at Twickenham.

On 20 minutes, Cambridge put pressure on the Durham defence on the right flank. Space opened up in the middle, and this time the passing was not only slickly delivered, but also competently collected. Second row Boynton scored the opening try for Cambridge, immediately converted by flyhalf Ross Broadfoot.

Durham kept up with Cambridge thanks in part to faultless lineouts delivered by their captain Firth. But Cambridge should have extended their lead on 28 minutes when an overlap on the right was exposed. But winger James Wellwood appeared to drop the ball forward – after successfully shrugging-off a last-ditch Durham tackle – in the process of crossing the tryline. Another chance was wasted from a 5m scrum under the posts; the loose ball from an untidy ruck was collected by Durham’s hooker.

Durham’s resultant scoring chance was thwarted by a brave charge-down by Wellwood. Cambridge’s second try came right at the end of the first half. Fullback Hamish Murray finished off the move down the right flank but the angle was too acute and the distance too far for Broadfoot to convert. Cambridge thus took a 12-6 lead in at the interval.

Cambridge started brightly in the second half. Some of the most scintillating running and exchanges gave the blues great momentum down the right flank. But flyhalf Broadfoot, whose distribution and attacking play was otherwise brilliant, naively sent a pass rightwards, cleanly intercepted by Durham’s winger Lowden who had ample pace to run from his own 22 to touch down under the posts. The conversion put Durham ahead for the second time in the match. This inspired the North-Easterners, who had a similar opportunity almost immediately. Thankfully for Cambridge it was a bulky prop and not a quick back who tried, and failed, to outrun the backs. Durham got their third try, however, some 4 minutes later, when a disorganized Blues defence was unlocked by quick passing and an angled run by inside centre Higham. O’Toole converted from a tricky angle and at 12-20, a Durham victory suddenly seemed a real possibility.

Cambridge continued to throw away golden opportunities. A moon ball pass was collected by Andy Stevenson on the right wing, but his run and offload was in vain, as was the resultant pressure when Sandy Reid knocked on under the posts.

It was the forwards that turned it around for Cambridge. Realizing that the wet conditions made quick running and passing an unreliable tactic in attack, it was sustained force from a 13-man maul that eventually saw Durham’s resistance crumble. Malaney got the touch down on 66 minutes. Ten minutes later Cambridge nudged in front thanks to another move with the forwards. It wasn’t until 47 second-half minutes had been played that Cambridge made their victory certain. Broadfoot’s insightful pass found substitute Jamie Astbury, whose try was expertly converted from the right byline to bring the final score to 29-20.

Tom Woolford