Rugby: Blues 9 V 17 Saracens

A strong performance from the Blues on Monday night brought them close, but no cigar, to a fierce Saracens side. PATRICK ROGERS reports.

Ben Spencer Blues Cambridge flair grange road Mako Vunipola MNR Monday Night Rugby Rugby Saracens Varsity build-up


In this fixture last year, England U20 hooker Jamie George scored a hat-trick… in the first half. And even after that the Blues still had a kick to win that game.

The year before, the Blues front row was taught a lesson by Mako Vunipola, only 18 months before playing in all three Lions Tests down under. You could be forgiven for expecting this match to have an uglier result for the Blues than their previous late-night outing to Life, particularly given the inclusion of England Saxons scrum-half Ben Spencer.

The opening exchanges suggested this would be a physically demanding match, as Saracens lock Maro Itoje was immediately penalised for a dangerously high tackle. If the match had been any more than 40 seconds old, he could probably have expected ten minutes in the sin bin, but was let off with a word of caution.

This physical challenge was backed up after only 11 minutes, as Spencer’s booming left boot pushed Cambridge back into their own 22, despite early inroads made from the base by scrum-half Harry Peck. From the ensuing lineout, the Saracen’s maul stormed over for a try by their big prop. Spencer added the extras.

For the rest of the half, however, it was Cambridge who made the most of the play. Clever tap-and-go’s from Peck were accompanied by hard running in midfield and solid play on the floor. The build-up of pressure produced repeated infringements, and Don Stevens put over the penalty to make it 7-3.

The same intensity was maintained for the rest of the half, and after a collapsed maul Saracens openside Matt Hankin was sin-binned. Stevens again added the extras, and despite all expectations, the Blues went into the break down only by a point.

They came out for the second half with a similar intensity. 3 minutes into the second half, Stevens was unlucky to miss a chance to take the lead for Cambridge after another breakdown penalty. When Saracens did manage to break through the stubborn Blues defence,  Nick Jones put in an impressive saving tackle on Saracens’ rampaging prop Biyi Alo, and Cambridge’s cover defence was tested time and again as Saracens spread the ball rapidly. The Blues couldn’t hold out for ever, and Saracens kept the scoreboard ticking over with a Spencer penalty.

Good tactical kicking from both Stevens and Cambridge 12 Hans-Kristian Larsen Haimes Cook kept Cambridge in the game. After a scrappy delivery from the base of the ruck, Stevens made a break that was only stopped by a diving Saracens full-back. As Cambridge began to chase the game, Spencer’s boot stopped them from being able to establish any territorial foothold.

The impact of fresh semi-professional players as substitutes was always going to be difficult for an injury-struck Cambridge squad to deal with, and the frenetic pace actually increased as the game neared its conclusion. While Cambridge’s defence continued to be impressive, the pressure was too much, and Saracens scored another drive-over try after a quick penalty.

While the result must have been disappointing given how long the Blues were on top of play, it was a nice surprise for someone who’s watched the last couple of Blues teams to see them play a semi-pro team with intelligent tactical play, discipline, and some touches of flair from the backs, particularly in the back 3.

Team Will Briggs, Tom Pascoe, Francis Sanders, Scott Annett, Jack Baker, Max Mather, Sam Farmer, Charlie O’Sullivan, Harry Peck, Don Stevens, Andy Murdoch, Hans-Kristian Larsen Haimes Cook, Courtenay Morrison, Nick Jones, Toby May

Subs Rupert Cowan (on for Tom Pascoe), Will Yeeles (on for Will Briggs), Sam Alderson (on for Francis Sanders), Rob Hall (on for Scott Annett), Jonny Miller (on for Jack Baker), Andrew Abraham (on for Sam Farmer), James Boyd-Moss (on for Hans-Kristian Larsen Haimes Cook), Sam Allen