Cambridge Exiles 10-52 North Walsham II

Due to pitch maintenance, the Exiles were relegated to pitch six for this clash against North Walsham, topping the table. On paper they were in for a big loss, but having competed in all their games this season, and with Walsham having to make a long away trip, there is very little difference between teams at the top and bottom of this league on a good day.

The game started well for the Exiles, proving that they more than competed. Indeed they took the game to Walsham, harrying them into mistakes with the ball and stretching them wide to make good ground. This pressure resulted in an early penalty for the Exiles in front of the posts and 30m out which Max hit straight and true. 3-0 and game on!

This play continued with Walsham fumbling and driven back. Good options of kicking and passing from Callum at fly half made ground and when the ball was spread wide left this resulted in a try for Cesar when despite a high tackle he scored anyway. Max converted superbly from the touch line across the wind 10-0.

Cambridge continued to press, with the scrum pushing Walsham off the ball. The front five of Alex, Archie, Brennan, Dec and Cam were dominant throughout and continued that dominance when Stan replaced Alex shortly after half time. The back row of Goran, Yvan and Chabs ably supported by Cal, Jimmy, Max, Cesar, Young Alex and Mark out in the backs and linked by James at scrum half all contributed to an equal dominance in rucks, turning over the ball on numerous occasions. Dec was back to his best destructive running and the tackling continued in the vein of the Ipswich win with barely a tackle missed. Cal continued to mix the play up, always taking the best option and using the cross pitch wind to great effect, ably supported by Jimmy, Max and Mark, all of whom had good kicking games. As ever it seems, Cam destroyed everything in front of him with the ball in attack and with his tackling and ruck presence in defence.

Despite all this, Walsham at last put together a good phase of play, with excellent close support and attack at the fringes of rucks meaning that despite the Exiles line not being punctured they made good ground into the Exiles 22 where eventually defence ran out and they went over near the posts for a converted try, 10-7.

Then Callum got injured.

Whether it was the state of the pitch, an unlucky twist or a previous weakness, his ankle went and Aleta sent him packing off to hospital for an X-Ray, suspecting a fracture. Having lost our genuine play maker, this was compounded by James’ hamstring giving out and the Exiles returned to the trusted partnership of Nick at scrum half and Mark at fly, with Nathan coming on at full back.

Soon a lovely run from the Walsham right wing, a first teamer on his way back from injury, and by some way the best player on the pitch allowed him to score under the posts. 10-14

So, at half time, within a score at 10-14 and having dominated the first half, exhortations to continue to play the same way and we were in with a real chance of a massive upset.

Sadly, it was not to be. The second half started with a Walsham driving maul from a 5m line out, and despite the Exiles stopping the attempt for the line, the second phase went over for a try converted 10-21.

A long period of sustained pressure with Walsham appearing to have almost a different team on, energised by their own half time talk it seemed, resulted in a further converted try. 10-28

The Exiles now exerted their own pressure and the match looked like it would be in the balance again. With their totally dominant scrum and ability on the jackal winning penalties, the ball was kicked to the corners where mauling tries looked on. However, three times, the Walsham forwards nicked the line outs and relieved pressure, and now it all went wrong for the Exiles. Max’s ankle gave up, with Aleta again sending him to A&E so James had to come back on with a barely functioning hamstring. Then Cam somehow managed to damage shin and head at the same time and with a concussion and a suspected shin fracture, he became our third casualty in Addenbrookes and with Alex having to come back on all our subs had been used, two of them ‘knackered’! As a result of the disruption, Walsham immediately scored another try, though the conversion was missed. 10-33

Now a great line out move on the blind side gave the ball to the Walsham No 8, a really strong powerful player who ran it in under the posts from his own half, with the walking wounded unable to put a finger on him. 10-40

For quite a long period now, the 13 and two half players of the Exiles kept Walsham at bay. Fierce tackling from Jimmy and Mark in particular saved tries where they looked likely. Somehow the Exiles summoned up reserves of speed in defence to pressure the Walsham line into making errors of either skill or judgement and the scoreboard didn’t move.

However, eventually, Brennan’s ankle went and without any subs we were down to 14 – in reality 12 and two halves. Nevertheless, the Exiles pack of seven – Alex, Archie, Stan, Dec, Yvan, Goran and Chabs – still pushed Walsham back in the scrum. When they won the ball in the reduced line out, Walsham seeing the disarray in the Exiles ranks now spread the ball wide to score in the corner, failing to convert and in the final minute scored their final try against an exhausted team, converted for a final score of 10-52

It was a tough day, but final scores don’t always tell the whole picture. The score won’t say how the Exiles smashed them in the scrum, even with only seven players; the score won’t say how they bossed the loose play turning over the ball on numerous occasions and the score won’t say how a team mainly of U23 players held the lead for most of the first half, until our play maker then three others left the game injured. The Exiles should be proud of what they all did well and some new to the team stepped up when things started to get difficult.

Well done!

Tries: Cesar
Conversion: Max
Penalty: Max

Alex Howell, Archie Davison, Brennan Logan, Declan Sully, Cameron Prior, Yvan Bollet-Quivogne, Goran Kellett, Alex Chabala (c), James Robinson, Callum Hall, Cesar Belloso, Jimmy McNicholl, Max Burton, Adam Griffiths, Mark Leckie
Replacements: Stan Meadhurst, Nathan Cowley-Wilson, Nick Apps

Thanks to Ann Miles for the photos.