Cambridge's year is off to a rocky start with this loss to the PenguinsNICHOLAS FOONG

On a bitter Wednesday evening, Cambridge started their year with a 38-26 loss to a strong Penguins side, falling short despite a late comeback in the second half. A minute’s applause marked the start of CURUFC’s 2019, in memory of long-serving colleague Nigel Pett, who sadly lost his battle with cancer this weekend.

In conditions that favoured the boot, the crowd was treated to an incredibly fast start to the game. The Penguins combined firepower and flair, using both direct running and audacious offloading, as Cambridge saw very little possession and territory in the early stages, as they found runners isolated and turned over whenever they gained attacking momentum. A well-worked driving maul put the visitors up, and as Cambridge started to fall off tackles, a scintillating break off a centre-field scrum set up the Penguins centre to barge over from close-range. The Penguins’ 10’s unorthodox but effective kicking routine took the score up to 14-0.

“Alas, on this occasion, the full-time whistle came too soon for Cambridge”

The Penguins continued this momentum, sending their carriers up the 10 channel to drive Cambridge back, and with the Cambridge defence stretched, a neat grubber kick allowed their winger to slide over in the corner. Soon after, an unfortunate interception sent the impressive Penguins 14 under the posts, and Cambridge were left staring at a 26-0 deficit.

Towards the end of the half they did begin to enjoy more possession, as scrum half Chris Bell tried to inject pace into the Cambridge attack with a series of quick-taps. However, it was their execution that proved the difference, as Henry King and Sean McMahon both came close to crossing, but the last pass failed to find its target.

The second half started like the first finished – a handling error off the restart immediately handed the momentum to the Penguins, and they took full advantage: Cambridge managed to hold a Penguins winger up in one corner, but were caught napping as a quick-tap led to a try in the other corner. Extras were duly added, and at 33-0 it seemed that the game was lost.

However, as the pitch dried from the day’s rain, Cambridge finally clicked into gear. A fantastically worked try gave Cambridge hope: a great line up the middle from Stephen Leonard followed by an offload exchange between Bell and Jake Hennessey left King to touch down out wide.

Cambridge were all of a sudden in the ascendancy, and after a short period of time in Penguins territory with no luck, the Penguins were penalized for slowing the ball down and were reduced to 14. Cambridge very quickly profited from the numbers advantage, as Charlie MacCallum crossed under the posts, and Hennessey’s conversion closed the gap to 33-14.

Another handling error off the restart handed the Penguins possession deep into Cambridge territory, and, as had been the case all evening, they were ruthless in punishing Cambridge for their mistakes; slick hands left the Cambridge defence outnumbered as they crossed in the corner to go 38-14 up, with the conversion falling just short.

However, the ticking clock and 24-point gap seemed to breathe new life into Cambridge, and their resurgence typified their spirit and superior conditioning. As their opposition tired, their fitness shone through as they finished the much stronger side. They re-gathered off a cleverly worked restart, and drove towards the opposition line. After forcing the penalty, the work was left to the forwards as Sam Schusman rumbled over from a driving maul. Shortly afterwards, Elliot Baines broke loose off a lineout play, and as had worked so well for Cambridge all evening, they kept it tight in the opposition 22, before Rowan Beckett eventually bundled his way over to further reduce the arrears.

At 38-26, all of a sudden a tall order seemed much more doable. Alas, on this occasion, the full-time whistle came too soon for Cambridge. Nevertheless, the what-could-have-beens of the first half and the second-half fightback suggest that with some fine-tuning, the team will only go onwards and upwards.

Cambridge: Gatus; Baines, King, Hennessey, Story; Cameron, Bell; MacCallum, Hupputz, Dean, Beckett, Eriksen, Leonard, McMahon, Koster Replacements: Schusman, Campbell, Kasem, Montesino-Jones, Saunders, Gnodde, Triniman


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Penguins: Banfield, Drew, Saulo, Russell, Signorini, Selwood, Kenningham, Marley, Flinn, Lewis, Stileman, Herbert, Barlow, Nalaga, Lawton Replacements: Harris, Waldren, Bagwell, Everton, Pozniak, McGagh, Calvert, Jones, Wiltshire, Brighouse

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