Cambridge Exiles 14-36 Thorney

On Saturday there were two games that ended with a score of 36-14: yet there was nothing to compare in the way those scores were realised. In Paris at the Stade de France, World No 1 side Ireland smashed Scotland, leading by 36-0 until the last few minutes when they brought on their second string and let Scotland score a couple of late consolation tries. At Ellgia Fields (I had to look that up, for that’s what the Grantchester Road ground is now called) the Exiles were fighting to get within a score at 24-14 with five minutes to go, having been in the lead for half the first half, before they went down to 14 men and let Thorney score a couple of late tries.

The Exiles had amazingly managed to cobble together a squad which included six each front row, back row and backs, including first senior game, first game in England, first game for Cambridge, first game in the backs and first game in the second row. Many thanks to every player who turned out on Saturday.

The game started brightly for the Exiles who took it to the very large (and slow) Thorney pack, worked their way upfield and with good penetration, second five eight Connor in his first game since arriving from NZ dotted down after three minutes dropping the conversion over for a 7-0 lead. 

The game then became a pattern of the big Thorney forwards taking the ball forward against stout Exiles defence, Exiles winning turnovers and their fast backs making inroads but just failing at the last moment with a forward pass or dropped ball. The Exiles pack was seriously underpowered in comparison to their components, but gradually the front five – of five props – managed to hold they own, Alex, Fraser and Tom backed up by Jake and Elie. Sadly, Jake’s back went and he was replaced by hooker Justin in the second row. At least the scrum now went back more slowly, so Nathan could pick up at the back and make good ground whenever he carried, also winning all the Exiles line out ball. Fraser, Matt, Will and Nathan also tackled fiercely everywhere in the face of the rolling juggernaut. They must have good fertiliser in the fields of Thorney to grow such big forwards!

Eventually the weight paid and when for the first time the ball was able to make its way to the Thorney left wing he turned out to have real pace and slid in for the converted try.

Working miracles behind the retreating exiles forwards, James R provided excellent service to Taylor in his first game as fly half and between him and Connor, they swapped the playmaking roles while also gaining turnovers. Both kicked better than we have seen sometimes from Exiles fly halves recently.

Despite a magnificent saving tackle from James R on a player who must have been twice his weight, the Thorney players got over again twice more one of them converted. They had now begun to think that the Exiles were more vulnerable wide, but wings Patrick M and Kieran proved them wrong so tried the middle again where James K and Patrick A made more than one excellent stop. If and when the Exiles got the ball to any of those back three they showed they had the potential to score. Eventually, Thorney rumbled over for a fourth try from a line out maul and the half time score was 7-24.

Fraser now had to come off under medical orders not to play more than a half as his hamstring recovers: we are very grateful that he was able to do so much and Justin moved to hooker while prop Dick came on for a half at second row.  With coach Reedo’s words in our ears, Cambridge started the second half with real purpose. It was clear that with a bit of luck on our side we would have been in closer on the scoreboard and now with the wind behind us, we played like those on the training ground had practised and the game started to come together. Eventually the ball managed to stick in the back’s hands and another mazy run from Connor got his second of the game, again drop kicked for a conversion for 14-24. We were back in contention.

For the best part of twenty minutes the Exiles played in the Thorney 22, only rarely were they able to escape, yet somehow they kept us out. With twenty left to play, Nathan had to leave the field and with no further replacements, the Exiles were down to 14. After such a heroic effort, the pack now could no longer contain the Thorney heavyweights and with one fewer across the defensive line Cambridge now defended stoutly near to our own line. Fantastic effort kept them out until five minutes from the end when they managed to get over in the corner and again with the last play, so the final score was 14-36.

A great effort for all the Exiles, particular thanks to Tom and Matt guesting, but a scoreline which didn’t reflect that the game was actually quite close.

Alex Howell, Fraser Jones, Tom Arnold, Elie Hammou, Jake Smith, Will Watson, Matt Smith, Nathan Crow, James Robinson, Taylor Lennon, Kieran Murnane, Connor Wilkins, James Kennedy, Patrick Mangell, Patrick Adeleye
Replacements: Justin Attelsey, Dick Wallin

Tries: Connor 2
Conversions: Connor 2