Cambridge lost the tie in the second half due to poor disciplineJoseph Hill

Cambridge University Rugby Union Football Club (CURUFC) suffered a 12-16 defeat to Durham University at Grange Road on Wednesday evening (10/11).

Tom Walton captained the men’s side in Charlie Watson’s injury-enforced absence, while Sam Odu earned a call-up to the squad following an impressive attacking performance last Saturday (07/11) for the LXs in their victory over Welsh Academicals. Stephen Leonard also returned to the starting lineup for the first time this season. Meanwhile, Durham travelled with a fairly young group that contained only six regular first-team members.

Cambridge started the affair brightly, with strong carries from Tim Andrew and Archie Smeaton punctuating the opening exchanges of the game. It was Durham who broke the deadlock, however, through scrum-half Morgan James dummying brilliantly off a line out to break into Cambridge territory before slipping in Jack Benton who finished well in the corner. Patrick Bishop failed to add the extras, slicing his kick to the right of the posts.

Off the restart, Andrew leaped highest to claim the ball before good phase play from Cambridge allowed Stephen Leonard to score just seven minutes into his Grange Road return to make it 7-5. A superb cover tackle in the corner prevented the prolific Andrew from adding to these points following a sweeping Cambridge attack in the tenth minute.

Cambridge’s physicality in the scrum proved hard for Durham to handle in the following minutes, giving away several penalties in the process. Only a Herculean defensive effort from Durham prevented further Cambridge tries, as the Light Blues applied wave after wave of pressure. But finally the breakthrough came, with Max Loveridge having the awareness to spot Andrew in acres of space on the left-wing to send him in for yet another try. Alex King narrowly missed a difficult kick from the touchline to leave the score at 12-5 to the home side.

Disaster almost struck as Charles Favell spilled the ball at the scrum soon after. Durham inside-centre Mike Ford latched on to it and looked certain to score were it not for phenomenal defensive work by Sam Odu.

Ill-discipline began to creep in at the breakdown, with Cambridge giving away a succession of penalties that allowed Durham to control the game inside the hosts’ territory. Fortunately, Durham’s handling was loose - perhaps a product of the day’s earlier downpour - and each time they approached the tryline the ball was turned over.

Suwi Chibale became the home side’s main outlet in the latter stages of the first half as he consistently shrugged off tackles, but Cambridge’s lack of discipline plagued their attempts to add to the scoreboard. The half-time whistle blew with the score still 12-5.

If Cambridge were dominant whilst scrummaging, the lineout proved to be Durham’s area of expertise, stealing the ball several times in the air. In addition, Cambridge seemed to have real trouble throwing the ball in straight, with the referee awarding multiple decisions Durham’s way for that particular offence. Handling also remained an issue for both sides, Cambridge knocking the ball on a few times as a result of Bishop’s excellent kicking game for the visitors.

As visibility faded, the game became increasingly kicking-oriented, with both scrum-halves frequently box-kicking and neither team seemingly able to handle each other’s aerial onslaught. The second half was far tighter, as both teams desperately looked to find gaps in very robust defences. Durham’s Will Nicholson missed a 40-yard penalty and with it the opportunity to close the gap to just four points, pulling it agonisingly wide of the posts. However, the incident leading to the penalty left Cambridge down to fourteen men, with Matt West being sin-binned for a bad tackle.

Durham capitalised on their man advantage soon after, as Nick Jonas brilliantly carved open the Light Blue defence from inside his own 22, then sending a precise kick over the top for winger Charlie Coe to finish just before it went dead. The extras were missed again by Bishop, leaving Cambridge with a slender two point advantage with fifteen minutes left on the clock.


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Yet another penalty given away by Cambridge allowed Durham to edge the lead, with replacement fly-half Harry Mercer slotting over from close range. A succession of Durham penalties, some of which the home crowd were vocally outraged with, allowed them to work into a position where Mercer was able to convert a further three points to eventually make it 12-16.

The Light Blues almost made up the deficit straight from the restart, with Odu battling through tackles to the five-metre line, but a loose pass brought the attack to an abrupt halt. With the clock in the red, Cambridge had possession deep into Durham territory before the ball was held up in contact for a Durham scrum.

After a few more phases, the ball was gleefully kicked into touch with Durham still 12-16 to the good. Cambridge will walk away from this game feeling it was theirs for the taking, but ultimately a severe lack of discipline ensured that the away side came away with the victory. 

Varsity Player of the match: Mike Ford (Durham)


Cambridge Starting XV: Danny Collins (Fitzwilliam)*, James Wright (Jesus), Matt Pettit (Clare)*, Charlie Friend (St John’s), Zac Bischoff (St John’s)*, Tom Walton, (St John’s, Captain)*, Stephen Leonard (Emmanuel)*, Archie Smeaton (Queens’)*, Charles Favell (Homerton)*, Max Loveridge (Jesus)*, Tim Andrew (Jesus), Sam Odu (Gonville & Caius), Suwi Chibale (Queens’)*, Douglas Russell (St John’s)*, Alex King (St Catherine’s)

Cambridge Replacements: Luke Parry (Downing)*, Jeremy James (Selwyn), Paddy Harris (Hughes Hall), Matt West (St John’s)*, Demi Obembe (Churchill)*, David Holdroyd (Jesus), Angus McIntosh (Jesus), Josh Grier (Gonville & Caius)

*Denotes Blue

Durham Starting XV: Mark Dormer, Josh Chinyemba, Michael Carr, Rhys Belcher, Jack Benton, Brayden Barratt, Henry Wills (CC), Ollie Tomalin, Morgan James, Patrick Bishop, Charlie Coe, Mike Ford, Will Nicholson, Paul Brown, Nick Jonas (CC)

Durham Replacements: Jed Shaw, Monty Royston, Jake Spurway, Jonty Cope, Harry Mercer, Alex Earnshaw