Haverhill 67-7 Cambridge Exiles

After a few weeks’ enforced layoff due to the weather, plus pre Christmas jollity for several players and a stag do, the Exiles looked to be struggling to raise a team for the away game at Haverhill. However our new recruits from the “Give rugby a try” programme came good as did Kyle, whose one good knee added to Dick’s one good knee meant that between them they hoped to make it through 80 minutes. As it turned out they each made 80 minutes! Shortly before kick off a message was received from Julian, who would only just get there for kick off due to a family crisis. As a result, Dick started at open side flanker…

Eleven of the squad had come from the recruitment programme: for two of them, it was their first ever game of rugby. For others, it was their first or second game after between 7 and 30 years! For one player, their fortieth season of adult rugby. There were four recognised backs in the squad – one of them on one knee, so forwards filled in. A fine example of participation in sport, but as you can probably imagine, this made the team somewhat disjointed. And with only a dozen or so training sessions EVER, some basic skills were missing for a couple of the players.

So, it was a bit of a surprise that from the kick off, the Exiles actually progressed into the Haverhill 22 and gave themselves the opportunity of opening the scoring. Sadly, that early promise didn’t really work out. Winning a lineout, they spread the ball left, but handling wasn’t up to it, the ball came loose and the Haverhill backs picked it up and ran the length of the field to touch down. 7-0.

Pattern of the game from here was pretty consistent throughout the first half. Scrums were unstable on the tight head side as Elie struggled. Sadly, it took the scrum some time to work out how to fix it. First, Dick moved to 2nd row to support Elie. Small improvement. Eventually, Elie and Cadge swapped. Suddenly, the Exiles scrum was solid. Why it took so long to work it out, who knows? The good news in all this was that Justin continued to hook the Exiles ball and with Toby and Dick locking out in the second row, we managed to deliver ball. By the end of the half, we were both stable and really giving the Haverhill scrum problems on their ball.

Lineouts were solid, the Exiles winning most on their own put in through Nathan or Marco, with Justin’s throwing continuing to improve and Nathan nicking a few off the Haverhill throw.

All this time, when they had the ball, the Haverhill backs were able to spread wide and get to the soft edge of the Cambridge backs. As a result, they scored a few more tries and kicked a few more conversions. Close in they made little progress. The Exiles back row of Marcus, Marco and Nathan and the midfield of Taylor, Mal and Kyle tackled well. Most impressive in his second only game for several years was Toby who didn’t miss a tackle all game. When Haverhill kicked long, (not so) Skinny Alex gave them real trouble with his pace, making good ground. Nathan also made ground with the ball, his excellent footwork meaning that tackling him was tough. Sadly, neither had the support to be able to properly link up to make the scoreboard work.

Vittorio, in his first ever game of rugby, and Freddy both defended bravely on the wings, but Haverhill’s pace and good ball movement made the game quite a struggle. By half time, with still no Julian in sight, the Exiles were 37-0 down, though the attrition rate had slowed, helped when in the ‘dickest’ moment of the day, having created a 5 on 1 overlap and running the ball in with no defenders left, one Haverhill player managed to run in front of the ball carrier and bump into him, making an offside and the try disallowed.

As the Exiles gathered for the half time huddle, Julian was spied coming over the hill on his white charger (well Gertie the Polo anyway.) By kick off he was ready to come on and Dick crawled to the touchline for a well earned breather.

And what a difference Jules made. The extra aggression, maybe bottled up from the delay in arrival meant Nathan now had proper support. Very quickly the Exiles pressured the Haverhill line. Sadly the ball was lost and Haverhill cleared. Left behind was Justin, whose calf had cramped and he was unable to carry on. So back on went Dick to prop, with Elie moving to hooker for the first time ever. After a few teething problems, he started to enjoy himself. Looks like we have a backup hooker!

Sadly, the Haverhill backs continued to create gaps on the wide outside and the scores continued to come in. Will came into the back row for his first ever game to replace Marcus. In the proper spirit of rugby, the Haverhill players helped guide him to the right places, realising he was struggling to know where to be and when. Nonetheless the baptism was over and he grew into the game.

Two good movements and steady Exiles pressure should have resulted in a try, but the ball spilled on the first and on the second, Jules was adjudged to have made a second movement to touch down and the try was disallowed. By now the score had mounted to 67-0 and Haverhill were trying to get to 70.

Throughout the game Taylor had kicked well to gain field position as had Kyle, and in the second half this had meant the game was much better balanced, even if the score wasn’t. With five minutes to go, Tom suddenly box kicked – now we know he can, we will be using that more! – and with a good follow up, the Haverhill wing was caught inside his half, the ball turned over and Freddy went for the corner being bundled into touch inside the 22. When their throw went long, Marco caught it and raced for the line. in the tackle he offloaded to Tom supporting who went over for the well deserved try. Tom converted to make the score 67-7.

In the end the score felt a bit harsh to the Exiles, but a scratch team of new and returning to rugby players had got a game in before Christmas and it set us up for our Christmas Curry celebration. Bring on the New Year!

David Cadwalladr, Justin Attelsey, Elie Hammou, Toby Briggs, Marco Valentini, Marcus Wood, Dick Wallin, Nathan Crow, Tom Critchley, Taylor Lennon, Vittorio Lupino, Malula Musonda, Freddy Rhead, Kyle Kotkin-Smith, Alex Howard
Replacements: Julian Mannion, Will Brown

Try: Tom
Conversion: Tom