Some poor discipline late in the contest proved crucial as the Army Senior Men came out on the wrong side of the result against Cambridge University, leaving Grange Road with a 29-21 loss.
Cambridge, who had pushed the Royal Navy all the way the previous week, came firing out of the blocks. The ball was fizzed left and right, with power and pace stretching the Army’s defences as they retreated virtually to the goal line.
But when it needed to, the red line won a turnover, and then, just like that, the Army were on the scoreboard with the softest of tries.
Cambridge full back Alex King’s direct kick into touch handed the red shirts a lineout in fantastic position, and after the first couple of phases had pulled in the defence LCpl Manasa Cakau (RE) spotted an open backfield, picked up at the base of the ruck and strolled over to the uprights. Bdr Owain Davies (RA) added the extras and the Army were up, 7-0.
LCpl Cakau with the Army’s opening try, successfully converted by Bdr Davies.
Having been sucker-punched, the Light Blues then landed a blow of their own. A searing run from Ty Wills down the right wing put them on the front foot, but the difference came from Tom Molloy, whose offload to Sam Odu was juggled and held on to by the winger, who stepped inside the last man to score.
Odu had already asked questions of the Army’s rearguard, and he did so again in his team’s next attack, putting them into a position which eventually brought Cambridge’s second try. A penalty was kicked to the corner and the forwards did the rest with driving phase play, Angus Peters coming up with the ball.
Jamie Benson landed the conversion, meaning that by the end of the opening quarter it was the hosts who had the advantage, 12 points to seven.
It was also clear by now that if Lt Col Tim Osman and the coaches had wanted a significant test for the red shirt squad they were getting it against a well drilled, fast and fit Varsity outfit.
Nevertheless, despite being put under the cosh repeatedly the Army were still showing their eye for an opportunity, and three minutes into the second quarter capitalised once more on a breakdown in Cambridge’s defensive systems.
Capt Stu Cross (RMAS/Yorks) took a penalty quickly, and with Cambridge unable to retreat quickly enough up popped Pte Ratulaveta (RLC) on the skipper’s shoulder to finish things off. Bdr Davies converted again and the Army were back in front.
Skipper Capt Stu Cross lead from the front with some great running lines to break and put his side away on several occasions.
The 14-12 scoreline remained until the break, but it needed more resolute defending from the red shirts to keep it that way as Cambridge piled on yet more pressure.
This effort was rewarded in style in the opening salvos of the second 40 as the Army scored their best try of the game. Pte Ratuvaleta collected a kick unopposed some 10 metres inside his own half, chipped over the onrushing defence and collected the ball. Three passes later and Capt Giles Bromley-Martin (IG) was over by the sticks for the score, and with a third success from the tee for Bdr Davies the lead was up to nine points.
Former Light Blue 2Lt Al Gliksten came off the bench returning to Grange Road where he was part of the Varsity Squad in 2019.
As the hour approached the red shirts began to ring the changes, including scrum-half, 2Lt Al Gliksten (RA), returning to his old stomping ground where he had been part of the Cambridge squad which won the 2019 Varsity Match.
The hosts were making changes, too, and it was they who regained the initiative with Odu’s second try of the night, the winger crashing over from close range. With the conversion the margin was back down to two points and the contest was back in the balance with the final 10 minutes approaching.
Odu’s try had had the red shirts on the back foot, and they found themselves needing a comeback when the home forwards drove flanker Shawn Ingle over the line a couple of minutes later.
But the killer blow came from the tee, Benson kicking the first three-pointer of the night to take Cambridge eight points and, crucially, two scores clear with three minutes to play.
The Senior Men travel to Oxford University on Wednesday, March 1st, before hosting the French Army at Aldershot on Wednesday, March 15th.
Tickets for the 2023 Inter-Services Championship are now on sale.
CLICK HERE for information about the Army v RAF at Kingsholm, Gloucester, on Saturday, April 15th.
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Words © New Dogs, Old Tricks
All images – Alligin Photography © Cat Goryn