The Well Hall faithful couldn’t help but reflect on how this week National One fixture had disappointing similarities to the 6 Nations match at Stade de France as a Club collapse and a splendid Cambridge fightback saw them score 24 unanswered points in the second half.
Most National One matches were called off at the weekend due to frozen and snow-covered pitches but not so for Blackheath at Well Hall. The day started brightly enough with the sunshine doing its work to thaw the pitch along with volunteers combining to clear away the last remnants of snow and ice from the past few days. We also saw NZ All Black legends John Kirwan and John Gallagher meet up at Well Hall as the RWC Race cycle group used Well Hall as a pitstop on their journey that will see John Kirwan on his way to the Rugby World Cup in Japan. This all added to the excitement ahead of a packed out pre-match lunch that saw 109 guests including Lord Jeffrey Archer, Baron Archer of Weston-super-Mare who had selected his flights so he could get back from an overseas trip in time for both lunch and the game at Well Hall. Maybe he knew what was to unfold?
As the match started Club showed the attacking fluency and aggression in defence that has been sadly lacking in recent weeks and there was an anticipation in the crowd that had not been apparent in past home games. Despite the visitors being first to score through a penalty it was Club who totally dominated the first period so much so that they had scored 4 tries in 28 minutes thus securing the bonus point before the break. Jake Lloyd got things underway scoring a beautifully worked score in the corner to add to his impressive seasons tally. This was followed by both Joe Tarrant and then Elliot Clements-Hill before the returning Leo Fielding went over for the Clubs fourth to secure the try bonus point. Sadly (and all too regularly this season) only one of the of the tries was successfully converted and so it was to prove again that these missed six points would be decisive come the end, although no one thought that possible after the first forty minutes as Club went in at half time comfortably in the lead 22-3.
In the second half however, things began to unravel almost immediately for Blackheath as Cambridge began to show that they too could play and that Club were not going to have things all their own way possibly. Then with only ten minutes gone in the second period the Well Hall faithful saw something they are not at all used to as the Club Captain Markus Burcham was forced to leave the field. That saw the introduction of Mark Cooke and along with a number of positional changes in the back line Club were ready for the last thirty minutes. But Blackheath who had for fifty minutes looked so comfortable and controlled looked like the side actually “chasing” the game. They went through multiple phases of play exhausting themselves but making negative gains (or so it seemed) only to be turned over to concede the first try of the four to come. More tactical naivety and individual errors saw Club miss touch from a box kick that could have relieved pressure, only to watch the opposition winger scamper through a totally disorganised defence flapping at his shirt tails as Cambridge went over for another try. The come back was well and truly on and Cambridge knew it and turned up the intensity. Sadly Club had absolutely no response and they were clearly hanging on now for the win and their pride as Cambridge grew in confidence and showed far more quality in defence and attack than the home side. Unlike Club Cambridge were able to make metres easily in the final quarter and they were able to convert their tries too thus securing a 22-24 lead with only six minutes remaining. Club realised the position they were in and gave it everything they had and rallied hard as they launched a series of powerful attacks and to the utter relief of the home crowd they were finally rewarded with a straight forward penalty on the Cambridge 22. This would see Club get back in front with just two minutes to go and it looked as though the Club were going to get away with an unfathomable second half display and secure the full five points. However the simple three points on offer were missed by Club which brought an audible groan from the home supporters who knew their fate was now sealed as Cambridge regained possession and kept it for the next three minutes all the way to Club 22 where they were awarded another easy penalty that was gratefully and comfortably converted making the score now 22-27.
The final two minutes saw the club retain possession, something they had managed successfully if not effectively throughout the second period, only to give away a crucial penalty on the opposition 5 metre line and thankfully the second half and the game was over.
With Club just one win from five and yet to win a match at home in 2019 there is a lot to do for the final nine games of the season. The mood in the changing room was beyond distraught and the team were grateful for the presence of the mascots Issy and Sam who came in to meet the team and collect their signatures.