Levels of involvement in university rugby have been severely affected by the Covid pandemic, as Cambridge’s college league looks to bounce back to fully-functioning form Dik Ng/DKNG Photography

Despite being marred by harsh weather conditions over the weekend, Cambridge’s various pitches hosted four ferocious matchups as part of the University’s college rugby setup. Queens’/Jesus hosted Fitzwilliam, Pembroke/Girton (‘Pirton’) welcomed St John’s, Selwyn/Peterhouse/Emma clashed with Clare/Corpus/King’s (‘CCK’), and Gonville & Caius took on Magdalene/Homerton to round out a hectic two days of rugby action.

St John’s 19 - 7 Pirton

On Saturday (19/02) at the Girton College pitches, St John’s convincingly beat Pirton despite some resolute defending from the home side.

The men in red opened the scoring early on and, after some consistent pressure on the Pirton tryline and many dives at the whitewash held just short, the ball was eventually bundled over for the first try of the game. The away side’s masterful fly half coolly slotted over to make it 7-0.

Pirton were shocked and for a time struggled to make it out their own half, as heavy hitting defending from the John’s forwards pinned them back. But the home outfit did soon find momentum, and soon found themselves camped on the opposition tryline. John’s held firm though, and Pirton kept being stopped short.

Finally, Pirton found Success Anyanwu who darted between defenders, was finally brought down, and made a lunging attempt at the line, but was penalised for a double movement. Pirton pressure had come to nothing so far.

To make matters worse, they were punished soon after as John’s quickly moved the ball wide in the home 22 to find Ramsay Hodgson, who then rounded the defence and planted the ball next to the posts to set up an easy conversion and make it 14-0. John’s continued to press yet the Pirton defence, tested to breaking point for most of the afternoon, held firm wave after wave of red, eventually winning a defensive penalty.

Minutes later, John’s and Blues’ player Hugo Lloyd-Williams was shown a yellow card for failing to release the ball and dissent, and suddenly the door back into the match was ajar for the home side. Unfortunately, they could not make this count.

The final minutes of the first half were littered with handling errors from the home side, and precision kicks from the John’s fly half. Despite Pirton’s numerical advantage, most of the play was stop-start and remained in the middle of the park. At half-time, John’s were clearly in the ascendancy despite rare line breaks from Pirton, whose mistakes and John’s defence kept their threat low.

In the second period, John’s cemented their territorial superiority and, despite the odd foray up the pitch, Pirton remained camped in their own half for the majority.

Pirton eyes momentarily lit up as the John’s fly-half went off injured, but he was soon back on and not long later Lloyd-Williams, also back on the pitch for John’s, forced his way over after a period of intense pressure on the Pirton tryline. The score was 19-0 and time was running out for Pirton to register on the scoreboard.

After this try, John’s sat off a little and the game dulled. Whenever Pirton broke, the John’s defence forced an error, and particularly enjoyed picking off many of Pirton’s attacking lineouts.

In the dying seconds, Pirton did manage a consolation try, as Tim Weil scored in the corner after a quick restart. Luca Scrase slotted a fantastic conversion from a tight angle, but it was too little too late.

Moments after the try, both teams had a man sent to the bin, providing the last drama of the afternoon as the final whistle sounded seconds later. Despite the scoreline, Pirton gave a good account of themselves and, without their workmanlike defence throughout, the scoreline could have been a lot harsher. John’s, with excellent kicking and clinical finishing, were deserved winners in the end.

Queens’/Jesus 7 - 0 Fitzwilliam

As the effects of Storm Eunice began to subside, Queens’/Jesus met Fitzwilliam in a league clash that proved to be less an advert for the quality of college rugby, but certainly an advert for the spirit and commitment of those who play it.

Early exchanges were fraught with handling errors, with rain lashing down onto the Jesus playing fields putting to bed either team’s attempts to play free-flowing rugby. Andrew Liang made the first meaningful foray into Fitz territory, breaking two tackles before being downed just inside the 22.

Both teams utilised their kicking games to their advantage, fly-halves James Onley-Gregson and Archie Rainbow both impressing with the boot in open play.

The Queens’/Jesus defence held firm to deny a dangerous Fitzwilliam sideDik Ng/DKNG Photography

It was Queens’/Jesus who opened the scoring, with Onley-Gregson the architect displaying quick hands to slide in Tom Hardman to score after twenty minutes. Onley-Gregson did well to make his conversion amid strong winds, rebounding off the post and in to put Queens’/Jesus 7-0 up.

The introduction of Eddie Milton-Seall for Fitz marked a shift in the momentum of the game. The powerful forward, usually positioned at number eight, was drafted in at inside-centre and made several hard carries in the minutes immediately after his introduction. Queens’/Jesus weathered the proverbial storm, however, defending resiliently.

Fitz struggled to control discipline at the breakdown, allowing Queens’/Jesus to control the tempo of the game. The half-time whistle blew with the score still at 7-0 to the home side.

The second half, despite the lack of rain, continued in much the same vein, neither team really beginning to threaten due to a combination of stern defence and unfavourable conditions. Queens’/Jesus looked to have extended their lead when a rolling maul drove over the visitors line, but the referee adjudged the ball to have been held up.


Mountain View

Cambridge men suffer 27-24 defeat to Navy Rugby

Onley-Gregson continued to dictate play well, but Fitz’s line speed meant the ball rarely got past the centres. When it did, however, Liang looked to be the most threatening player on the pitch, consistently beating his man and making yards.

With five minutes left on the clock, Queens’/Jesus got a penalty thirty-yards out, right in front of the posts. Attempting to ensure victory, they went for the points, but Onley-Gregson’s kick flew just wide of the posts. Fortunately for them, the whistle blew shortly afterwards with Queens’/Jesus still ahead 7-0.

A gritty, attritional game of rugby played in some of the worst conditions, both teams deserved something from the game. However, Queens’/Jesus had slightly more firepower going forward, meaning they took the points on the day.

Varsity Player of the Match: James Onley-Gregson (Queens’/Jesus)

Elsewhere, Selwyn/Peterhouse/Emma narrowly beat CCK by a score of 22-15, while Caius brushed aside Magdalene/Homerton in a game that ended 22-10 to the home team.