Preview to Cambridge (a) 12.11.1110/11/2011
"Have we met somewhere before?"
It may have sounded casual, but this was no throw-away chat-up line. It was a serious enquiry, delivered with raised eyebrows across a crowded English rugby pyramid structure. And answering it meant going right to the top - that's right, to Mike Engleman's bathroom…
More of the pre-match dialogue later, for now there is a mouth-watering SSE National League One tie to look forward to between third-placed Cambridge and a Jersey side who are on the up and would overtake their hosts should they register a sixth straight win at Volac Park this Saturday. It kicks off at 2pm.
Cambridge may have fallen short against Ealing last Saturday, but they are in good company in that respect (quieten down you lot in East London please), and at least had the consolation of a strong finish, scoring the last two tries of the contest in a 32-21 defeat but falling one try short of two bonus points.
The strong showing in Level Three over the past season-and-a-third is a triumph for a club who last year were facing a winding up order from the Inland Revenue, requiring some serious commitment from sponsors and supporters to raise £170,000 to ward off the threat. Cambridge went on to finish third last season - they may have been well behind the two front-runners, but a total of 103 points from 29 games was eight ahead of Macclesfield and a chunky 24 points clear of fifth-placed Tynedale.
News from the Jersey camp - a rare call of 'Same Again?'
Unbeaten since Rory Teague's long-distance penalty in the final moments at Cinderford on October 1st, Jersey's squad has had a more settled look to it in the past few weeks and could even be unchanged for the trip to Cambridge.
Skipper Paul Rodgers remains side-lined with a knee injury and hooker Dave Felton has also been absent for some weeks but there is encouraging news that prop Dai Maddocks, scrum half Nicky Griffiths and full back Glenn Bryce are on their way back to fitness. Not that getting back into the squad will be easy, as those 'looking after' their shirts have been impressive.
The display of running rugby against Barking was correctly described in the JEP as "as good as it gets" although once again this accolade shouldn't detract from a superb effort up front by the Jersey pack, setting up a platform from which to dominate.
Originally marked down as a one-night trip, the intention to return home from Gatwick on Saturday evening was scuppered by an emergency drill at Jersey Airport that night, meaning the squad will stay over in Cambridge before heading back from Luton on Sunday.
Cambridge in 2011/12
The 'Blood and Sand' (team colours and nickname) failed to reach top gear when National One kicked off, resulting in a convincing 39-24 home defeat by Sedgley Park and a 31-6 drubbing at Blaydon. The situation turned around with narrow successes against Barking, Rosslyn Park and Tynedale before Macclesfield edged a 67-point thriller at Volac by a single kick.
Cambridge then registered four successive wins, including a 49-29 thumping of Fylde and a 29-27 success away at Cov, prior to the fruitless trip to Ealing last Saturday.
Leading the new arrivals ahead of pre-season was the former England hooker Andy Long, who made his debut in Clive Woodward's first match in charge against Australia in 1997 but won just a single additional cap, against USA four year later. The 34-year-old Long has taken on the role of forwards coach while continuing to ply his trade in the Premiership for Northampton Saints; at the time of writing it's not clear whether he will be required for the daunting trip to face Munster, where he spent a brief playing spell in 2003, in the Heineken Cup this Saturday evening at Thomond Park.
Other arrivals include fly half Sam Dimmick (Asvel Rugby, France), lock Bryn Jenkins (Launceston), prop Mike Cade (Peterborough), hooker Jarrod Taylor (Chelmsford) and prop Tom Fidler (Newbury). A number of players were also promoted from last season's 2nd XV, the Wanderers (not to be confused with the Jersey team of the same name).
Top try-scorer from last season (with 18) Billy Robinson left Cambridge to join Moseley in the summer, and fly half Dan Mugford (97 kicking points plus four tries in 2010/11) also traded up to a Championship contract, this time with London Scottish. These mantles have passed to centre Tom Wheatcroft, who has landed 73 points from his boot this season so far, and Anders Morgensen, top try-scorer with six.
Surprisingly for a team in third place, Cambridge have conceded an average of 29 points per game so far this season, compared with Jersey's 16. In terms of attack, the gap is less marked with Cambridge's average points scored just ahead by 31 to 27. All of Jersey's away games have been closely-fought affairs, which all points, unless I'm wrong of course, towards some more nail biting this weekend.
A brief history of the Blood and Sand
Cambridge RUFC was formed in 1923 and was settled in its current ground by the 1950s. In 1993 the Club was fortunate to be offered the opportunity to buy the lease on its existing three pitches and to buy adjoining land for a further three pitches from King's College. Floodlights were added to one of these pitches in 2003
Cambridge joined the newly formed league structure in 1988 and by 1991 were playing in London 3 North East Division, rising by the end of the 1998/99 season to London 1, which feeds into the National Leagues. Relegation two years later was a set-back, but the Blood and Sand then achieved three successive promotions, rising from Levels Six to Three by the summer of 2006.
Subsequently it's been a more stable picture, with finishes of 9th, 6th, 2nd,(edged out of top-spot and promotion by Birmingham Bees by 111 points to 108) 4th and 3rd in the current league.
In 2005 a brand new clubhouse rise above the old to accommodate the club's growing support and rising sponsorship; two years on and a 200 seat grandstand was added to the front of the clubhouse.
• In 2010/11 Cambridge scored the most tries in National One (143) and had three players - Billy Robinson (18), Darren Fox (16) and Jaco du Toit (15) in the division's top 15 try-scorers
• Famous former players include the England internationals Dickie Jeeps (24 caps plus 13 for the British Lions) and Andy Hancock (3 caps including a very famous try - see Youtube!), Trefor Evans (10 caps for Wales and one for the Lions) and more recently Alex Goode now of Saracens
• Don't adjust your sets - the current 1st XV squad has two props named Ben Cooper
• The home defeat by Sedgley Park in August gave some measure of revenge to the Lancastrians after a 78-23 annihilation in the last game of 2010/11 at Volac Park
• There is an annual midweek 'Town v Gown' match against Cambridge University, won this year by the Students by 28-21
• This season's average crowd at Volac Park is 416.
Following the game (as in what to do afterwards)
As a one-off preview treat, offered as compensation to Jersey supporters who will miss CRUFC's Bierkeller knees-up (all brewery, police, and serving fraulein leave cancelled) by a tantalising six days, here is a potted guide to the social scene from Cambridge's Steve Jackson.
The local rugby boys (Cambridge, Shelford etc) tend to go to B-bar in the town centre - about £12 by taxi from the team hotel in Lakeview... If anyone wants a quietish night out, and/or a decent meal, there's the Red Lion in Histon (15 mins walk from the hotel) for proper beer drinking, and the Phoenix (15 mins walk) for the best (but not cheapest!) Chinese food in the area - nice sit-down restaurant. FYI, the landlady at the Red Lion's a regular at CRUFC - her partner is a former 1st XV captain. Otherwise, Cambridge is full of decent pubs - but I guess you may have found that out when you came over to Shelford last season...
Following the game (as in keeping track of the score etc)
Don't forget that you can keep up-to-speed with news from the game through the following channels:
• Preview on BBC Radio Jersey's 'Sportscene' from 6- 7pm on
Friday, and regular updates on Saturday afternoon
• Preview in Friday's JEP, and full match coverage on Monday
• Scoreflashes on @jerseyrfc Twitter and the 'Rolling Maul' rugby forum
• Match report on Channel 103 on Saturday soon after the final whistle
• Report Sport on Channel TV at 6.15pm on Monday, and online
And finally... have we really met somewhere before?
High-level discussions between the two clubs this week centred mainly on whether Saturday was the first-ever meeting between Cambridge and Jersey.
After failing to confirm this through walking round the clubhouse and looking at the myriad of different plaques, the call was made to Mike Engleman, former fixture secretary whose long tenure ran until the mid 1990s, when he was promoted to even higher office.
Mike was indeed in the bath when the call came in, but was nevertheless able to confirm that this is indeed a brand new fixture. Seconds later, there was a splash and the line went dead - Jersey Telecom are assisting with enquiries.