Cambridge Exiles 12-80 Cantabs II

On Armistice Day, a depleted Exiles squad took on Cantabs, second in the league at home at Ellgia Fields. Despite having only 13 players on Friday evening, and 14 by Saturday morning, Cantabs had agreed to help out – many thanks for this -so it was ‘game on’. When we arrived, we managed to scrounge together enough kit for Taylor’s mate Angus who had come along to support him, and he started on the wing. So it looked like we would have 15 of our own players until Jules got there, barely able to walk having damaged his back in the dangerous pursuit of getting out of his chair. Virtually immobile, Daniel rubbed in some magic linament, a few stretches and some how he limped onto the field.

Heroically, he then played for 80 minutes, once again skippering the side with aplomb and leading by example. Not sure if he can  move enough today to compose a WhatsApp…

After the appropriate two minutes’ silence, the referee’s whistle went and the game got underway. As expected, with such a scratch side, the Exiles struggled for continuity. As expected, with such a settled side, Cantabs rolled like a well oiled machine. And that, really, was the difference between the two sides, with Cantabs also having several excellent jacklers to disrupt the Exiles rucks and a real speed merchant at 9, that no Exile could catch.

Where there were no differences were in the effort or general defence of either side, with the Exiles forcing Cantabs generally to go wide to score. In two areas the Exiles had the upper hand, with the front row of Cadge, Justin and Elie driven forward by second rows, Dick and Jules and flankers Steven and James K, locked by Nathan at 8, meaning that scrums were always solid and usually pushed Cantabs backwards. Likewise Nathan and Jules leaping like salmon won our own ball and sneaked a couple from Cantabs too.

Taylor playing his first game at scrum half lost the battle with his dodgy ankle and had to go off after about 20 minutes, at which point with no replacements, Cantabs kindly loaned us back Jimmy McNicholl who had defected across there over the summer. Kyle also played his first game at fly half, kicking well from exits and generally getting Ted and Patrick A going in the centres. Freddy and Angus started on the wings, with Paddy M at full back, but this changed several times during the match, too often for me to keep up with. Suffice it to say, Paddy M moved to centre and then scrum half: Patrick A was sometimes at full back and Freddy and Ted were sometimes at centre.

So the pattern was lots of attritional play in the midfield, neither side really gaining advantage, but when Cantabs spread the ball, they often scored from out wide. This lead to 7 tries for Cantabs and a lead of 0-47 as they had a really good kicker who converted 6 of the 7 tries even from the touchline.

Just before halftime, the Exiles managed to work their way towards the Cantabs line with a penalty kick to touch and from the resulting line out, two phases saw James K force his way over the line under the posts to the screams of delight from the Cambridge Women who had come to support us. This support manifested itself loudly every time the Exiles did something good – and as this was often enough, they were hoarse by the end of the game and deserving of a drink as well as our hearty thanks.

Kyle managed to forget that he needed to take the conversion, so on his 64th birthday, second row Dick stepped up and popped the ball over from the ground – no kicking tees available in the days of a four point try!

Cantabs were heard to say in their half time huddle that they expected to score at the same rate in the second half, but I am pleased to say that the Exiles played well enough to stop them. With Taylor off, Cantabs swapped their loan players round and Sean (I think his name was!) came on to help out. Then, bless him, James R turned up having managed to get out of work slightly early -and even better brought his brother Matt who had played for Cambridge M&Y a few years back in the same cohort as Ted.

This was particularly fortuitous since Paddy M felt quite unwell so James R slotted in to scrum half and Matt on the wing giving Angus a breather after a particularly vigorous hand off from  the Cantabs 8. The defence held really well, but two unfortunate tries by the Cantabs rapid 9 – the first an interception between Kyle and Jimmy highlighting the lack of continuity of the Exiles. The second came from a quickly taken penalty when the ref had appeared to give a penalty to the Exiles so they stopped and the scrum half shot off three quarters of the length of the field while the Exiles waited for the ref to bring him back. Never happened!

Despite these two setbacks, and another 3 tries the Exiles were not giving up and with a couple of minutes to go constant pressure on the Cantabs line resulted in a knock on. From the resultant scrum, as the Exiles scrum started marching towards the try line, the ball popped out at the back, but James K picked up and did really well to twist, turn and force himself over the line, then force the ball down to score his second in his last act before flying off to Washington DC for a few months. We all wish him well.

Dick missed the final kick with the tired swing of the boot reminiscent of his swing on the 18th tee and the ball drifted just wide of the post. So the final score was 12-80, with the Exiles scoring a try in both halves, and restricting Cantabs to only 5 in the second.

A great effort and spirit from everyone on the pitch. At times it felt like we were going over the top of the trenches, but every player gave their best and no-one gave in until the final whistle. Some new players are now voicing their intention to come and join us. Maybe we can field a stronger side for the return match in February?

David Cadwalladr, Justin Attelsey, Elie Hammou, Dick Wallin, Julian Mannion, Steven Griffiths, James Kennedy, Nathan Crow, Taylor Lennon, Kyle Kotkin-Smith, Freddy Rhead, Ted Watts, Patrick Adeleye, Angus Mayer, Patrick Mangell
Replacements: James Robinson, Matt Robinson (plus Jimmy McNicholl, back in Blood and Sand, and A N Other – maybe Sean – from Cantabs, with thanks!)

Tries: James K 2
Conversion: Dick