College Rugby: The Great Reckoning

With all to play for in the final weeks of the Division One season, HENRY PRITCHARD assesses the teams, as four remain in competition for the title.

downing jesus Mighty Binson Pembroke Peterhouse Robinson Selwyn st johns The Redboys

This week brings us into the final stage of the college rugby season, with everything to play for in the coming weeks. The prize of title winners could be bestowed, at this stage, on four teams, with only Jesus and Pembroke out for the count.

Any one of Robinson, John’s, Downing and Selwyn/Peterhouse could snatch glory from the grasping, mud-dashed mitts of the other three colleges.

An appropriate comparison

An appropriate comparison

Here is a round-up of the season so far:

Pembroke have lost all of their games, and have been admittedly unfortunate in so doing. After a very respectable 2012/13 season, their form dived with the loss of some influential third years. Some bad luck also contributed, with one player breaking his leg very badly in a game against Robinson. Rory Scott was notably a real presence on the pitch, leading the line in loose play and in tackling. This most beautiful of colleges will be looking to show more of Scott’s brand of grit in the coming games, especially among the talented back three, hopefully salvaging a consolation victory before the year is done.

Robinson have had an excellent season, thus far bookended by two frustrating losses, which leave them with a decent chance of the title, providing their best form is in evidence in the big upcoming games against John’s this Saturday, and Downing the following Tuesday. While the Binsonites have beaten every team except the Redboys, demolishing Jesus, John’s and Selwyn in the process, they will need all of their players back and on form, as shown by a loss against their enemies from across Grange Road when their squad was very diminished. This team is capable of beating any side in the league, but it will need to finish extremely strongly to make this actually happen, and will need the Mr Jeckyll version of its backline, rather than that of Dr Hyde.

Still Cambridge rugby's most intimidating captain

Still Cambridge rugby’s most intimidating captain

Gone are the days of John’s rugby as a force in Cambridge. Or so we all thought back in November. These most abused and abusive of boys had lost to Jesus, Selwyn and Robinson before they knew what had hit them. All three of these teams took John’s apart, with very few points scored in retort, and none against Robinson, who had never before beaten them in their (admittedly short) history. Observers around John’s pitches around this time would have been privy to some high-tempo weekend training to get the squad back from the brink. This seems to have worked to an extent that at one point looked impossible. Captain Patrick Calvert (when not running out at Twickenham) has led the team back, with impressive wins against Downing and Selwyn. With the fewest wins amongst the four contenders (4), they stand an outside chance of regaining their former glory. Regardless, they have won back a lot of their pride since last Autumn.

After a nail-biting win against rivals John’s on the first day of the season, Jesus have really struggled to keep pace with the other clubs bar languishing Pembroke. This excellent and much celebrated result was sadly the zenith of the season. One gets the impression that this Jesuan side is a disjointed team with a number of excellent players, but with often too much ambition in play in relation to their skill-level, and an over-reliance on an excellent full back to bail them out of tight situations.

Downing have been one of the most impressive outfits in the league, playing aggressive rugby, beating all teams except John’s and Selwyn, with the latter a nail-biting 15-13 encounter in November. This season they have been some of the most consistent performers, rarely allowing themselves to be exposed in set-pieces particularly. They also demolished the league’s whipping-boys Pembroke by a quite startling 90-5, which must have smarted somewhat. The Redboys will certainly be the team to beat as the season comes to close, and they will likely be fancying their chances of overall victory, in spite of the close arithmetic.

Selwyn (with Peterhouse) have been a resurgent force this season, beating Trinity Hall in the play-offs to come up into the first division. They have been pretty successful, with the same number of wins as Downing and Robinson, and have stuck to a formula that, though dull to watch, has brought them results. Using a rollicking pack to recycle possession, and their fly-half to kick every time he gets the ball, the team has managed to do almost entirely without a back line. It remains to be seen if this admittedly strong combination will stand up to the challenges of the next few weeks.

They only need 9 players (Credit Richard Cadman)

They only need 9 players (Credit Richard Cadman)