Cambridge 22 Bishop's Stortford 1st XV 21
Stortford fail to find the spark needed to beat a hard-tackling Cambridge side.
After last week's structured and multi-pronged attacking performance, Stortford today slipped back into the one-dimensional approach, which saw their downfall the previous week at Fylde. On this occasion, they couldn't be faulted for lack of commitment against a Cambridge side battling to end a poor run of form at home, but there was a marked lack of variety and ambition with ball in hand, which played into the hands of a home side that barely missed a tackle all day. The first half was nip and tuck, with Stortford having the better of possession and territory, but Cambridge looking far more threatening on the occasions they could lay their hands on the ball. Both sides were guilty of early indiscipline, resulting in an exchange of penalty goals after 4 and 8 minutes, with Cambridge pegging back the early Stortford lead. The visitors then mounted another sustained attack, but without ever looking likely to break through the Cambridge defensive line and, when the ball was turned over, the home side immediately posed a threat, bursting up the middle from their own 22 and sweeping almost instantly into the Stortford red zone. Some stout back-foot defending by the visitors managed to repel the attack and they were able to grind their way through many phases and another penalty or two back close to the Cambridge line. Another penalty after 25 minutes produced a yellow card for the home team and George Cullen drove home the advantage, by converting the kick at goal to restore his side's 3 point lead. Despite being down to 14 men, Cambridge launched another strong attack from the restart and, after several phases of powerful running, with penalty advantage being played in their favour, a clever grubber kick from some 5 metres out by their flyhalf was dived on by a supporting player for a try under the posts on 32 minutes. The easy conversion established a four point lead, but this was overturned, as time was running out in the first half, when Matt Tomlinson managed to stretch out his long arms over his head to touch down, rounding off a good period of more aggressive running from his fellow forwards. Cullen's kick took Stortford into the break with a 3 point lead.
This situation changed quite quickly after the restart, though, as Cambridge put the pressure on, kicking two more penalty goals after 5 and 8 minutes. The latter came after the home side had butchered a clear try-scoring chance out wide, as their powerful centre went for glory with a clear overlap outside, but at least they went away with points on the board. Stortford continued to battle gamely, but without the ingenuity to break down Cambridge's solid defence, forcing Cullen to go for an ambitious long penalty shot at goal, which fell well short. More concerted pressure from Stortford, though, going through many more phases of attritional rugby, eventually got them towards the Cambridge 22, where another penalty was won after 60 minutes and Cullen this time made no mistake. The home side were soon in the lead again, though after a period of attack, where, once again, they looked more threatening than their opponents, ultimately forcing a penalty for offside, duly converted by their flyhalf. With time running out a potentially crucial score went Stortford's way when, after an excellent territorial kick by Cullen, another penalty was won at a breakdown and the kick set up a 5 metre lineout. What was either a serious overthrow of Stortford's middle jumper, or a brilliant decoy jump and throw over his head into the waiting arms of Seb Brownhill, saw the replacement prop plunge over for a try. Cullen's conversion attempt flew narrowly wide but, with only 2 or 3 minutes to play, the visitors were in the driving seat. Unfortunately, though their steering developed a wobble as, first they kicked away good ball from the base of a solid scrum, compounded shortly after by conceding a penalty at a subsequent scrum, as for the first time in the match, the home side put on a powerful shove. The penalty was pretty much on the halfway line, but the Cambridge flyhalf opted immediately to go for goal and justified his confidence by banging the ball a yard or two over the crossbar for a dramatic finale.