The Caius side struggled to maintain control in line-outsGraham Bates/David Parry

A strong defensive performance coupled with some dominant set pieces have seen Downing College clinch the 2018-19 Cuppers rugby title, defeating Gonville and Caius College 19-0 at Grange Road on Saturday evening. The victory puts them alongside St John’s as the only colleges to have won multiple titles in the past sixteen years.

Downing’s victory was anchored by their set pieces, which formed the basis for all three of their tries. Will Slaughter opened the scoring in the 31st minute from a rolling maul, while Oliver Smart profited from his team’s scrum dominance through two pushover tries in the second half. Meanwhile, Caius’ inability to win their own lineout stifled any hope of finding attacking field position, while their scrum was comprehensively overpowered throughout.

Caius’ problems were also compounded by a lack of potency with the ball, as they struggled to get across the advantage line throughout. Despite Caius enjoying the bulk of possession for long stretches of the match, their opponents’ defence invariably held steadfast. Downing’s ruck dominance meant Caius never really had the space necessary to bring their backline into play.

This was in stark contrast to Downing’s backs, who were irresistibly slick when they did manage to get their hands on the ball. Fly-half Tom Mullaney played an excellent game, his agility and pace posing a particular headache for his opponents. He anchored a backline that was assured in possession and moved the ball confidently throughout. This was exemplified by a series of sweeping attacking moves in the second half, which were each only denied by some desperate Caius defending.

Caius failed to take advantage of their early territorial advantage, falling inches short of the try-line on a number of occasions

With westerly wind gusts in excess of 20 miles per hour, this was a game that was always going to be shaped by the weather. After winning the toss and choosing to receive the kick-off, the entirety of the first 20 minutes was played in Downing’s own half. Despite receiving a flurry of penalties, the headwind meant Downing were never able to properly exit their own 22, systematically opting to take scrums instead of kicking for touch. Caius, however, failed to take advantage of their early territorial advantage, falling inches short of the try-line on a number of occasions courtesy of some robust Downing defence. It would be as close as they would come to scoring for the rest of the match.

After soaking up the early onslaught, Downing began to work their way back into the game via their set pieces. They regularly managed to win lineouts off Caius’ throw, and were clearly the stronger pack when it came to scrums. This translated into favourable field position. Given the opportunity to string some phases together, Downing gradually settled into the match and clearly looked the better team in attack. Their tenacity was rewarded in the 31st minute, when they were offered a penalty right in front of the sticks. Deciding to go for the try, they found touch 5 metres out; the ensuing lineout was won, a rolling maul formed, and prop Will Slaughter crashed over to open his team’s account.

Excluding a cancelled semi-final fixture against Fitz, the Downing side has not conceded a try throughout the seasonGraham bates/David Parry

With only ten minutes remaining until half time, Caius did not have long to make the most of their tailwind, and they knew it. The remainder of the first half was played in a frenzy, with some slick attacking movements countered by hard tackling by both sides. Escalating tensions between the two sides reached a head three minutes from half time, when Downing winger Jack Manley swatted a Caius pass clean over the left sideline. It was ruled cynical, and he was rewarded with a yellow card and ten minutes in the bin.

With their man advantage, Caius would surely have been hoping to equalise before half time. However, they went into the break with a 5-0 deficit. Running into a headwind in the second half, and facing Downing’s attacking potency and set piece dominance, hope amongst Caius’ raucous cheer squad should have been running thin.


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Despite their predicament, Caius fought valiantly in the second half, managing to keep the ball in midfield for sustained periods. They defended desperately, with some miraculous goal-line tackles saving multiple Downing tries. Their inability to get across the gain line stalled their momentum, however, and they were unable to score before Manley’s return in the 47th minute. It only got more difficult from there, with few scoring opportunities as the match petered out into a slugfest. Ultimately it was their set pieces that spelled their downfall, with their scrum being conclusively bested in the form of two pushover tries.

The final marks the end of a dominant Cuppers campaign for Downing, a team featuring four Blues players, who finished the competition without conceding a single try. Caius, who qualified for the final by shocking favourites St John’s in their semi-final, remain never to have won the competition. They will doubtless be hoping to break their drought next year.

Downing College RUFC: Dom Hamlyn, Jack Manley, Charlie McCallum, James Gill, Jaspet Rossi, Tom Mullaney, Connor Newell, Will Slaughter, Miles Huppatz, Jonathan Dixon, Matthew French, Oliver Bolton, Luke Parry, Will Bolton, Oliver Smart.

Replacements: James Todd, Dan Owen, Felix Wimmer, Charlie Slater, Giles Rought-Witta, Jeremy Manger, Ally Dunham, Luke Adams.

Gonville & Caius College RUFC: Owen Perks, Alex Parton, Zaki Rehman, Joe Crush, James Anderson, Cameron Miller, Niall McCarthy, Omar Uwais, Michael Miller, James O’Sullivan, Hasan Cuthbert, Harry Langford, Will Davis, Sean McMahon. 

Replacements: Max Brosahan, Cameron Whitley, Benedict Schallamach, Ali Davies, Chris Jackson, Cameron Bonthrone, Shiv Kapila, Edouard Barrier.

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