Cambridge 23 Bishop's Stortford First XV 22
By John Allanson
Stortford let another win slip at the death
This local derby, with both sides sitting in the wrong half of the table and coming off three game losing streaks was always going to be hard fought and so it proved. Playing against a strong wind, Stortford managed to dominate most of the first half, with their scrum well on top and the whole team going through phase after phase of slick handling to have much the better of both possession and territory, thus preventing the home team from taking any great advantage of the elements. Cambridge, though tackled well and limited the scoring threats that the visitors could pose. The first score in fact went the home side's way, when flyhalf, Lawrence Rayner converted the second of two successive penalty shots at goal after 8 minutes, when one of his team mates, who seemed to have been involved in a tackle, was allowed to immediately put hands on the ball to win a decision against Stortford for holding on. Undaunted, the visitors swarmed back onto the attack and a spell of intense 15 man attacking play brought its reward 4 minutes later, when quick handling by the threequarters created space out wide for Dan Elsom to take an inside pass from Jimmy Rea to go over for an unconverted try. Stortford continued to enjoy the bulk of the ball and to control territory for the next 25 minutes, but were unable to break down Cambridge's strong defence again and, with time running out, the home side managed a rare sortie into opposition territory. A penalty was again awarded against Stortford in a very kickable position, but Rayner this time crashed the ball against an upright. Unfortunately, for the visitors, Cambridge reacted more quickly to seize the rebound and a quick, long pass to winger, Kwaku Asiedu allowed him to break a despairing tackle from his opposite number to run in for an unconverted try out wide.
Turning to play with the breeze - albeit now somewhat less strong - with only a 3 point deficit, things still looked good for Stortford and, when Louis Castiglione crashed over close to the posts for a try after only 5 minutes of the second period, following several strong thrusts by his fellow forwards, the writing seemed to be on the wall. Manu Vunipola's conversion took his side out to a 4 point lead, but this proved to be short-lived, as Cambridge showed that they too were capable of playing flowing rugby to sweep back upfield through multiple phases. Stortford's defence, unfortunately was found to be more fragile than Cambridge's had been in the first half, as Sam Yawayawa brushed off tackles from 3 or 4 players to touchdown out wide for an unconverted try. This seemed to signal a significant swing in the balance of the game, as the home side suddenly started to enjoy the kind of scrum dominance that Stortford had hitherto enjoyed – the visitors’ cause not being helped by the absence from the field of Jon George (injured at the end of the first) half and Mark McCraith now also withdrawn, calling for a wholesale reshuffle of the visitors' pack, requiring scrumhalf, Tom Banks to see out the game at blindside flanker. Cambridge again attacked through multiple phases and Stortford's defence once more was found to be vulnerable some quarter of an hour later, when flanker, Jake McCloud ran through a wide gap close to a breakdown to touch down under the posts. Rayner's conversion stretched their lead to 8 points, but Stortford continued to battle and forced their way back upfield, where, after 35 minutes, they settled for a penalty goal to Vunipola to bring themselves within one score of the opposition. The visitors then took full advantage of a midfield penalty, which was deflected by Cambridge’s fullback into touch in goal, when they mustered a rare solid scrum and Sam Winter took a short pass from Vunipola to step and crash his way between three Cambridge tacklers to stretch out for the line to equalise the scores. Vunipola held his nerve well to kick the conversion and, with only two or three minutes of injury time left, it looked as if it was Stortford's turn to have snatched a result at the death. Unfortunately, though the team lacked the composure to see the game out and were turned over, trying to run the ball out of their own half, instead of playing the percentages with a kick for territory. Cambridge stormed onto the attack and were rewarded with a penalty close to the visitors' posts. Rayner this time made no mistake with his shot at goal, which proved to be the last act of the game.