Light blue skies as pre-Varsity form continues

Nick Butler 23 November 2012

Cambridge 30 Steele-Bodger XV 10

A solid performance at a rain-sodden Grange Road saw Cambridge resume their winning run in their penultimate pre-Varsity test. It was the 65th anniversary of this historic encounter and Micky Steele-Bodger – a former Blue and President of the RFU – had organised a strong team including International Seven’s players from England, Scotland and Australia.

Alas, it was not a day for running rugby in what was an unsurprisingly error-strewn encounter – despite the additional atmosphere provided by a temporary stand and a functioning electronic scoreboard.

With handling errors and a kick sliced straight into touch, the opening exchanges set the tone for the match as both sides struggled to overcome the treacherous conditions. Opting to tap-and-go and kick for the corner from two early penalties, the visitors signified attacking intent but their lack of a killer instinct was to prove their undoing.

Cambridge were initially happy to kick away possession but began to take advantage of the growing space in which to attack and from one such move Captain Rob Malaney broke clear to score the opener, with a penalty by Andrew Abraham increasing the lead.

Despite enjoying plenty of possession Steele-Bodger stuttered in their reply, and the number of slips and dropped catches was more akin to Cricket than Rugby. Yet there were thrills as well as spills in what was a physical encounter – illustrated by one colossal tackle by Dugal Bain.

The visitors continued to launch plenty of attacks, and after several near misses eventually capitalised on the stroke of half-time. After the Blues were somewhat harshly penalised for being off their feet Chris Reed touched down in the corner after a lovely cross-field kick, to reduce the arrears to 8-5.

In what is becoming a trademark this season Cambridge – unlike the weather – visibly improved after the break. After repelling some early pressure, Andy Murdock broke clear on the right wing. After several quick passes the ball came to Will Smith on the opposite flank, who beat two men superbly to touch down for the Blues try of the season.

Abraham added a conversion and a penalty, and then from another bullish assault Dugal Bain charged over to effectively seal the win. After Nate Brakeley narrowly failed to grasp an interception, Seb Tullie really did make it game over by nipping around the base of the scrum to score a fourth try.

A sloppy grubber kick gave the visitors a lifeline as fly-half George Cullen impressively raced the length of the pitch to score, but the game petered out in the final minutes as Cambridge held on comfortably to secure a solid win.

In many ways the result was of secondary importance on a symbolic occasion marking Micky Steele-Bodger: a great servant of Cambridge and England Rugby. Yet it was another strong performance by James Shanahan’s side and the Coach was satisfied with his charges effort:

“I’m pleased particularly with the second half” he said. “Our defence was sound and our game management was impressive. The conditions were horrendous to play Rugby in but we kept going and scored a lovely try after the break.”

With Varsity a fortnight away it really is crunch time for the Blues but the team impressed again, with the front-row of Briggs, Mallaband and Brown perhaps the highlight as they won a high-quality scrum battle.

The squad have just one more chance to impress – against Bristol on Saturday – before selection and Shanahan is already looking confidently towards Twickenham.

“I’ve got an idea in my head of whose going to play, and so has Rob (Malaney) so we will sit down after Saturday and make a decision. Our momentum is continuing and we’re confident that there is more to come against Oxford.”

Nick Butler