Preview to Cambridge (h) 24.03.12

22/03/2012

Budget Special: absent friends, lots of Hunters and extra training for the Under 7s

A fortnight is a long time in rugby... certainly if you've been looking to get a particularly bad day at the 'office' out of your system. After losing out on March 10th to the Dogs of Barking, thanks to that last-minute try, the Jersey squad will be straining at the leash to get back on the pitch. Even the under 7s were called in for extra training on Thursday...

This is the start of the home stretch of the National One campaign, with five matches in six weekends [four clubs also have Easter fixtures] rounding off the season, and a thrilling climax looking likely at the top end with Ealing, Fylde and Jersey meeting each other over the last two Saturdays, and many Nat1 clubs still having the chance to influence the title race in some way.

Cambridge travel to Jersey after a season of twists and turns that might remind readers of a plot cooked up by one of their most renowned supporters, Jeffrey Archer. His Lordship is apparently not making the trip, joining Wharfedale President John Spencer and Cinderford Coaching Consultant Phil Vickery on the list of famous people who almost made it to Jersey this season, until they had a better offer.

The home side, in contrast, looked set fair until they were turned over by Barking 22-20, the exact same score by which the Dogs tore apart Ealing's unbeaten record at the end of October. With a decent weather forecast, there looks likely to be another sizeable crowd at St Peter in time for kick-off - 3pm. Supporters are urged to arrive in good time.

News from the Jersey camp
DoR Ben Harvey has celebrated Budget Week by having news of positive equity on the injury front in his red box. A total of four stricken warriors (with their 'last-played' dates) are due back - loosehead prop Dai Maddocks (Jan 14), lock and lineout professor Jim Brownrigg (Feb 18), flanker and co-top try-scorer Guy Thompson (Jan 21) and centre Dai Bishop (Jan 7). The last-named joins Mike Le Bourgeois as the back cover on Jersey's bench, with the starting back-line unchanged.

Maddocks makes only his second start of the season after prop-groundsman Myles Landick was ruled out following a training injury, the full extent of which is not yet known. Brownrigg is likely to replace Toby Clyde-Smith, who sits next to his brother Charlie and James Gethings on the bench, while Thompson takes Steve O'Brien's back-row berth.

Jersey's lead at the top of National One has shrunk to four points, which some observers would have you believe was down to lack of bonus points. It's true that the four-try bonus has 'only' been achieved 13 times in 25 games, but the three losing BPs are more easily explained, in that only four losses mean only four chances (three of them taken) to get a losing bonus.

Whatever the bonus point calculations, you don't need to be Inspector Morse to deduce that this is a game that the home side will be looking to win well.

Any previous?
November 12th 2011. Cambridge (13) 13 Jersey (21) 54

"A stunning second-half display by Jersey brought the Islanders 33 unanswered points and sealed an emphatic victory over the team who lay third in the National One table before kick-off.

The second-half display was all the more remarkable in that Jersey played with 14 men after the dismissal late in the first period for Nathan Hannay for an alleged head-butt in an incident that also saw Cambridge No 8 Darren Fox given a yellow-card for retaliation.

Guy Thompson gave the visitors an early lead, supplemented by a Mike Le Bourgeois penalty, but Anders Morgensen's try, converted by Tom Wheatcroft, made it 7-8. The kickers swapped penalties and in the 23rd minute Dave McCormack shrugged off three tackles to score. A drop-goal by Le Bourgeois and another Wheatcroft penalty completed the scoring to make it 21-13 to Jersey at the break.

For the second week running Guy Thompson scored two tries within the first 10 minutes of the restart, completing a stunning hat-trick and pushing Jersey out of sight. After a lull there was a further burst of three tries in the last 16 minutes. Ed Dawson was first over, then Myles Landick celebrated his second try for Jersey - the first in the Championship semi-final against Taunton 18 months ago - and finally Le Bourgeois crossed to complete a personal haul of 24 points.

After the game Landick praised the outstanding defensive effort which had underpinned the victory, while Head Coach [since promoted] Ben Harvey described it as the best performance by Jersey away from home in the three years he had been involved. Jersey move above Cambridge and take fifth spot in the table, with 38 points, as a result of the win."

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 Park (home of CRUFC) 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 a 32-21 defeat at Ealing.

When Cambridge hosted Jersey, the 12th of November looked glorious from the home side's point-of-view: third in the league, with just four games out of 11 lost, including a modest nine-point margin against runaway leaders Ealing the week before.

Defeat by Jersey - as crowed about earlier - signalled the start of a mixed spell, although December and January included two wins that might prove crucial - 22-20 at Barking before Christmas, and 23-21 at home to Tynedale four weeks later.

Crucial? Potentially, yes, after the club announced in late January that a further outbreak of financial woe left them unable to pay players after January 31. This led to a fair amount of disquiet, and some departures - including the combative Mr Fox and prop Benjamin Cooper to Bedford, centre Toby Berridge to Donny, and Tom Wheatcroft (full-back) and Tom Fidler (hooker) to Ealing.

Director of Rugby Bob Crooks also took his leave, and the coaching void has been filled by scrum-half Danny Hunter, while former player Glen Remnant returned to Volac as Team Manager. The Kiwi Remnant spent three seasons at Cambridge when the club were soaring up the league in the mid-noughties, before moving to Launceston and then Shelford - he came to St Peter as a coach with Shelford last April, when the Blood & Sand's local rivals gave Jersey an almighty fright before the Islanders squeezed through 25-20 in their final regular season league match.

Some departees waited until the very end of January, delivering another telling win, 35-27 over Cov, before they left. A four-game losing streak brings us up-to-date, although amazingly this has included try bonus points against Blackheath, Fylde and Ealing.

The Ealing game was another page-turner. In a nutshell:
* 1st quarter, Cambridge lead 24-5
* Half-time, Cambridge lead pegged to 27-20
* Around the hour, 37-26, still a bit of daylight
* 74 minutes, the score's 37-33, can they hold on?
* Final whistle, not quite - four converted tries to Trailfinders make it 37-63.

The points-fest is an extreme encapsulation of the Blood & Sand's season, with a points aggregate of 1,480 way ahead of anyone else (Fylde 1,352). It's like a whole season of Barbarians-style scores, if still a few tries short of the Super 15. A total points tally of below 50 looks unlikely.

The likely squad will be much varied from the match with Jersey in November. Survivors include the half-back pairing of Hunter and Elliot Bale, hooker Ben Hunter and back-row man Gareth McComb, plus a few coming off the bench. There are so many Hunters that Jersey may feel like marked men - Danny and Ben are joined by brother Sam on the bench. Gas on the outside comes from winger Patrick Tapley and full-back De La Ray Veenendaal - both of whom scored against Ealing.

With 57 points, Cambridge should be back for another season in National One in 2012/13, barring an amazing late run from the Bees, who are currently 15 points behind them.

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.

The early part of last season was dominated by financial matters when the club was issued with a winding-up order by the Inland Revenue over unpaid tax, and only a heroic response by members and supporters, raising £170,000, staved off disaster. At the same time a decision was made to return to being a community club, rather than one with only a 1st XV.

Cambridge Trivia
• 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
• Forwards coach for Cambridge is 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 continues to ply his trade in the Premiership for Northampton Saints; just last weekend there was speculation that his appearance in the LV Cup Final might be his last in a Saints' jersey, with Dylan Hartley back after the Six Nations. Hartley has since been fingered by the citing commissioner, so maybe not?
• 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 season by the Students by 28-21
• This season's average crowd at Volac Park is 434

Rivals' Round-up
Ealing (four points behind Jersey) were Cambridge's last opponents, see above. This weekend they host Tynedale, Jersey's next opponents. Students of the fixture list will know Ealing usually seem to play our next opponents. After that it's: Macc (a); Cov (h), Fylde (a) and Bees (h). At peak form you'd expect Trailfinders to win all of those (except possibly the one near Blackpool?).

Fylde had a bad first half at Cov and their recovery earned only a try BP and left them eight points off the lead. Another loss might well signal the end of their tilt at the title, and this weekend they have the tough prospect of Rosslyn Park away. The rest of the run-in is: Bees (h); Blackheath (a), Ealing (h) and Jersey (a).

Following the game
Don't forget that you can keep up-to-speed with news from Jersey v Cambridge through the following channels:
• Preview on BBC Radio Jersey's 'Sportscene' from 6- 7pm on Friday, and live commentary on Saturday afternoon (available online and on your transistor-wireless device
• Preview in Friday's JEP, more rugby in Saturday's Inside Centre pull-out, and full match coverage on Monday
• Scoreflashes on @jerseyrfc Twitter and the 'Rolling Maul' rugby forum
• Match report on Channel 103 soon after the final whistle on Saturday
• Highlights on Channel TV at 6.15pm on Monday, and online

And finally
This Sunday, not only do the clocks change, but it's the VerrasLaw JRA League Semi Finals at St Peter: Jersey II v Guernsey II at 12.30 and LQ Lydian Lions v Banks at 2.30.

In November research was carried out 'proving' that the two clubs had never met before. This proof didn't last long, and we are reliably informed that Cambridge did visit Jersey in the late 60s. The age-old principle of Tour Rules prevents me saying any more...

Enjoy your weekend's rugby
Tom Innes

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