A total of 8 returning Blues were in the Cambridge squad The Varsity Match/Twitter

Loughborough University 29

University of Cambridge 27

University Football Ground, Grange Road

Cambridge fell agonisingly short in their opening match of the season, losing 29-27 against a typically strong Loughborough side.  In a fascinating contest between evenly matched teams it looked like the Blues would hang on with some stellar defence but the final of many touchline conversions from Loughborough ensured defeat for the Blues.

The game didn’t start brilliantly for the Blues who were left 7-0 after beautiful pass from Loughborough’s fly half, Matt Travers, to winger, Jack Antoniou, led to a try and successful conversion from the touchline. The Blues weren’t fazed by going down a try.  They regained the ball from the kick off, immediately putting pressure on Loughborough.  To stop Chris Bell from crashing over, Loughborough received a yellow card for a professional foul; Cambridge received a penalty which was duly converted to make the score 7-3.

As both teams settled into the game they began to produce a lot of promising moves with balls being expertly transferred across the pitch, ruined on several occasions by a handling error.  Loughborough looked most likely to score when they tried the same fly half to winger combination but Blues full-back and captain Charlie Amesbury duly put the winger into touch. Just as Cambridge were building up possession, Loughborough scored against the run of play in the 20th minute with an interception try under the post for an easy conversion and a 14-3 lead. 

As the announcers put it, next came "a belter of a try” to start the season for Cambridge.  Jack Hennessey, who had an excellent debut in his first senior game, took the initiative with a tap and go penalty, enabling Andy Burnett to score under the posts a couple of phases later.    Thanks to a successful conversion, Cambridge were now only 4 points adrift at 14-10. The Blues kept pushing with good work from the forwards to wear down Loughborough’s defence.  Their efforts resulted in a Cambridge scrum on the 5 metre line and Buchan Richardson’s cheeky offload put winger Ed Loftus into the corner for the Blues to take the lead at 15-14.

When the spectators thought that there couldn’t be more action in the frenetic first half, Cambridge managed to collect Loughborough’s restart and created an overload on the right hand side.  Unfortunately the final pass was intercepted by Loughborough’s Antoniou who ran the length of the field to score, leaving the Blues 19-15 at half time. Cambridge started the second half more energetically and were rewarded instantly with an unconverted try for Hennessey after good link play from the back row.  This nudged Cambridge back into the lead at 20-19.

Cambridge continued to increase the pressure on Loughborough with some flowing moves from the back row culminating unfortunately in several dropped balls – a definite area of improvement for this team. Cambridge couldn’t capitalise further on this pressure and their cause was not helped by a yellow card for Stephen Leonard after an illegal bone-crunching tackle on the excellent Travers. He was substituted soon after with an injury and this seemed to benefit Cambridge as they continued playing some expansive rugby.  Despite the sin-binning Cambridge were the next to score with a well timed pass from Phillips putting Archie Russell in for a walk over try in his first appearance for Cambridge.

"Our preseason tour to South Africa has really tightened up the squad, we’re all really good friends and that’s the making of a quality team"

Charlie Amesbury, CURUFC captain

With the score at 27-19, it looked as though Cambridge were beginning to turn the screw but the game remained very even between the two teams as both retained possession well.  In 73rd minute Loughborough were awarded a penalty, chose to go to the posts and were rewarded with 3 points. This set up a nail-biting finish for Cambridge and Loughborough supporters alike, as Loughborough kept threatening to breach the Blues defence.  Their replacement fly half was looking increasing dangerous with darting runs and a grubber kick putting the Blues on the back foot on a couple of occasions.   The game kept on going after 80 minutes as the referee kept playing advantage as the Blues gave away penalty after penalty, something else which the Blues will be disappointed about.

However in the 5th minute of over-time the unremitting attacks from Loughborough finally reaped their rewards with a try in the corner.  This secured the draw but the stadium went silent as yet another touchline conversion sailed over to give Loughborough a 29-27 win. In a thoroughly entertaining game packed with action, Cambridge just couldn’t hold out to cap off a generally impressive performance for the first game of the pre-season.  Poor awry passes cost Cambridge the game, but they have a good base from which they can improve. 

As captain Charlie Amesbury said, “Our preseason tour to South Africa has really tightened up the squad, we’re all really good friends and that’s the making of a quality team.  A few guys who didn’t make the tour really stepped up in today’s game and asked questions.  The debutants have really shown the older guys that there is no place settled in the team.”

Debutant and Fresher Jake Hennessey added, “I loved my first senior game but I am gutted to lose.  It’s always nice to get on the score board but there are so many boys without whom I wouldn’t be getting under the sticks.  We worked really hard for each other tonight and we’ll go again next week.”

The Blues will look to bounce back in their game against Durham University next Wednesday at 7pm at Grange Road.

Cambridge: Amesbury (c), Loftus, Russell, Hennessey, King, Phillips, Bell; Dean, Burnett , Dixon, Beckett, Eriksen, Watson, Leonard, Richardson

Loughborough: Birtirim, Foster, Koster (c), Carolan, Antonious, Travers, Dobinson; Brownhill, Lynch, Dimen, Hunter, Wheadon, Yussuff, Hill, Hutchinson

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