Battling Blues Restore Belief

Despite a 35-24 loss, there’s finally something to build on.

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The Blues responded positively to their heavy loss to Northampton with an improved performance against Saracens last night. Despite losing 35-24, the Blues can take encouragement from the way they competed with a team containing three internationals and a string of Premiership players.

Saracens built a commanding first half lead of 28-3, helped by various defensive lapses from the Blues. But with the prospect of another substantial defeat looming, Cambridge rallied in the second half, scoring two late tries to lift the spirits of an impressive Grange Road crowd.

The visitors drew first blood, Cambridge’s Freddie Shepherd being easily handed off by Adam Powell to take the ball over. Shepherd’s missed tackle was perhaps the only blot on his copybook in an otherwise imposing performance – his first game of the season.

After clawing back 3 points from a Jamie Hood penalty, the Blues conceded again after 25 minutes as Saracens’ George Kruis breached their fragile defensive line. The conversion from Owen Farrell made the score 14-3 to Saracens.

The ensuing period saw the visitors establish their territorial dominance by consistently out-maneuvering Cambridge in the kicking duels, former Fiji captain Moses Rauluni and youngster Owen Farrrell dictating the game with razor-sharp tactical kicking out of hand. The game looked to be moving out of the Blue’s reach when Powell crossed for his second try of the game to leave Cambridge trailing 21-3.

Immediately before half-time Cambridge enjoyed a sustained period of pressure on the Saracens line. The Blues combined a succession of well-executed lineouts with some strong mauling led by Dan Vickerman and Andy Daniel but were able to force only an opposition sin binning, not the elusive try they were looking for.

Some clinical finishing from the visitors’ backs and questionable defending from the Blues gave Saracens another try on the brink of half-time, and left Cambridge with a mountain to climb, 28-3 down.

The Blues began the second half brightly and scored their first try of the match as second row Will Jones went over from close range. With a routine conversion from Jamie Hood (28-10) the glimpse of a possible comeback from the home team presented itself.

Following Jones’ try neither team was able to establish any real momentum, as possession frequently changed hands. Saracens’ impressive full-back Jamie Hearn caused numerous scares. Taking advantage of the Blues’ unimaginative kicking game, his lightning counter-attacks set a platform from which the visitors were able to attack.

With less than 20 minutes left Saracens left-winger James Short rounded off several phases of forward play from the visitors to go over in the left-hand corner, the try soon converted by Owen Farrell – scoring what would prove to be the only opposition points in the second half and putting the game beyond the reach of the Blues with the score at 35-10.

Farrell, the son of England Rugby League to Union convert Andy Farrell, put on an impressive display, exhibiting excellent tactical kicking, smooth distribution and a 100 per cent kicking record.

In the closing stages Jamie Hood eluded four would-be tacklers to slide in over the line for the Blues second try of the game, before coolly slotting over the conversion.

As the clock ticked down James Greenwood finally had the chance to show off his searing pace, racing away down the left wing leaving the covering defense trailing in his wake, Hood’s conversion providing a final score of 35-24.

The marked improvement on last week’s drubbing by a young Northampton outfit will give encouragement to Vickerman and his side. They will especially take heart from their second half performance, in which they outscored Saracens 21 points to 7.

Coach Tony Rodgers will have been satisfied with his team’s well-worked lineouts, strong rolling-mauls and solid scrum, though will surely be keen to establish faster ball in open play to let his backs attack more off the front foot in their next encounter against a Crawshays XV at home in two weeks time.

Rodgers and his team will reflect that without the defensive lapses of the first half, Cambridge could have ended this entertaining fixture on top.