The Friendlies – Season 5: Episode 4 Cambridge (Carry On Regardless)

Don’t know what I’m doing here
I’ll carry on regardless
Got enough money for one more beer
I’ll carry on regardless

Good as gold, but stupid as mud
He’ll carry on regardless
They’ll bleed his heart ’til there’s no more blood
But carry on regardless

Beautiful South – Good As Gold

The decision to forego the hog roast wasn’t one of my better ones on the day.

Cambridge’s hospitality is without equal among the clubs I’ve visited on our travels with Cov in recent years. Hull Ionians close, possibly Wharfedale, Fylde and Blaydon too…

…but for me, Cambridge are rightly top of the geniality tree.

Take yesterday, for example. ‘Free’ entry, two games and the choice of a lasagne or a hog roast before the main game. All for just £25 which was to cover the return journey by coach (extremely well-organised, as ever, by the Coventry Supporters’ Club).

A return to the gym and a healthy eating regime has meant that in recent weeks I’ve started to look (hopefully) and feel (definitely) a little younger than my 60 years and in the spirit of my somewhat long overdue renaissance, I opted for a healthy(ish) ‘meal deal’ instead of the Cambridge hog roast.

I even managed to persuade Sam to forego the culinary delights awaiting us at Granchester Road.

My argument was two fold.

First, the heathier I eat, the longer I live, the more he benefits in the long run.

Secondly, in the past we’ve sat inside at Cambridge to eat their pre-match fayre but this time I wanted to be outside to watch some of the opening game in which a number of Cov and ex-Cov players were playing for Cambridge 2s against Peterborough.

Whilst I’m not sure Sam bought the first, he too was keen to see the likes of Titchener, Betteridge and Martin in  the game that kicked off at 1.00 pm.

So I got my way.

And all was well until we arrived.

A decent ham and cheese sandwich from the petrol station opposite the ground, rounded off by crisps (not the heathiest option I grant you) and a diet drink had more than sufficed.

But then I discovered my faux pas.

The hog roast was adjacent to the pitch and it was perfectly possible to watch the game and enjoy the pork bap without having to sit inside…

Very much a case of having your hog roast and eating it really.

Daggers from Sam, a bit of silent treatment and an envious glance every time we passed the stall.

I pretended not to notice.

I carried on regardless.

Good as gold, but stupid as mud
He’ll carry on regardless

Unfortunately, a couple of accidents on the way down (and indeed on our return) delayed the journey a little and we only arrived in time for the start of the second half of the Cambridge ‘Squad’ game against Peterborough. By then, Martin and Betteridge had gone off, as had former Coventry hooker Will Priestley, leaving just Max Titchener at 10 and a young full back from Cov who looked a useful player (apologies, I’m not sure of his name – and apologies if I’ve missed anyone).

DSC04065Max T played the full 80, had pretty much a 100% kicking record and controlled the line well from what we saw of him. I think this was his debut for Cambridge and if that’s so, I’m sure he will have impressed in what was a strong Cambridge performance, beating Peterborough 54-14.

I think there are 21 players out on loan to junior clubs at the moment. If players like Max are going to get the odd Cup game in a Cov shirt, they’re going to have to play regularly in the first teams of their temporary clubs. Hopefully, in Max’s case (and the others involved in the game) he’ll have done enough to catch the eye of the coaches and take a massive step forward to a first team start with Cambridge in the coming weeks.

It’s perhaps all too easy to forget that whilst 2200 plus are packed into the BPA on a Saturday afternoon to watch Cov’s senior professionals play against the likes of Ealing and Newcastle, many of the Development and Academy players will be playing in front of one man, often without a dog, and dreaming of a chance to play in the first team. Travelling long distances even for ‘home’ games,  as well as training twice a week, in addition to training with Cov during the rest of the week too, must be tough on both body and, indeed, soul.

Good luck to all the Cov players out on  loan this season. It be great to see the next generation of youngsters break through into the senior squad this time next season, if not before.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

The start of the Cov game was delayed a few minutes, presumably to give players a little longer to warm up as the first game didn’t finish until around 2.30.

There are a number of reports of the game doing the circuit so perhaps general observations would be of greater interest than a factual account of the game.

Cov did what they needed to do.

A job well done against opposition that made life difficult at times and despite the 35-0 scoreline, had several decent chances of their own to get on the scoreboard. After the first 15 minutes or so when Cambridge had more of the possession, Cov dominated much of the game, other than perhaps the opening few minutes of the second half when the hosts looked threatening in attack with replacement No 9, Fin Creighton, prominent.

Creighton was also on the bench for Coventry against Blackheath (good spot from Sam there!), so presumably he’s a Northampton youngster whom Cov/Cambridge are giving some valuable gametime to???

That’s speculative on my part so please read with caution there.

Pete White has his GPS tag removed from his shirt after the game

There were plenty of positives to come out of the game, with Cov’s defence nilling what was decent opposition being probably top of the list for me. The week before, Bedford had conceded 24 points at home against a Cambridge side that, according to the Bedford match report, offered a ‘stern test’. So, in that context, for Cov not to concede even a single score away from home is encouraging.

Listening to some of the Cambridge supporters who watched the Bedford game, they felt The Blues had tended to play more off the front foot, attacking more quickly than Cov but also exposing themselves more to the counter and thus conceding points in the process. Cov, they felt, were far more disciplined which is why Cambridge struggled to break their defences but also why we perhaps weren’t such an attacking threat, playing more off the backfoot as they saw it.

That’s but one interpretation of the game, but it’s an interesting insight from a neutral’s perspective. We certainly didn’t play the kind of free-flowing rugby that certainly I’d hoped to see at some point during pre-season, but different combinations meant there were always going to be a lack of continuity in these friendlies.

There were, however, a number of positives to be taken from the game, with several players coming back from injury making telling contributions and several of the players recruited over the summer appearing to have settled well.

The fact that only one player, Archie Strath, appears to have sustained a significant injury over the three games is also a real bonus and with other players soon to return to the squad following more long-term injuries, things look encouraging. Rob Knox and Ben Nutley came on in the second half and Knox was especially prominent with a couple of barnstorming runs that took out several players, one of which led to a try. A fit and confident Knox will be a potent weapon this season, although with Owen, Forsyth, Stevens and Andy B around, competition for places will be strong.

George Oram typified what had been missing a little in the first half, hitting the line hard and at speed and invariably taking players with him. It’s no wonder he gets injured given his physicality; he’s such a direct player when he’s fit. He and Knox did much to change the momentum of the game, although the forwards had already started to dominate Cambridge in the scrum by then. Lineouts were better in the first half than the second. I think we lost three on our throw in the second 40, although Buckle looked useful in the loose. Dawidiuk has had two strong games so far and looks a fair bet for a starting place when the competitive games begin in a few weeks time.

Jennings at 10 looks the real deal and appears to offer what we all hoped Jake Sharp would bring to the party last season. We only saw a couple of glimpses of Sharp’s talent in all the time he was with us, but already Jennings has impressed. His place kicking was immaculate yesterday, even from the touchline with a stiff breeze, and his speed of thought and ability to read a play was really encouraging to watch. A little chip over the defence which he collected himself, only for a forward pass to deny James Stokes a second try, was particularly memorable.

Stevens had a great first half, particularly impressive in defence where he put in some thumping tackles.

Jon Sharp shook the hand of every Cov player leaving the pitch after the game

Stokes, too, looked to be recapturing the kind of form that makes him such a favourite with Cov supporters. Against his former club, yesterday he made two searing breaks, one from which he scored (matching Jennings with a kick and collect of his own) and the other finishing  just a couple of metres short. Performances like the one we saw yesterday will make it a tough choice between Stokes and Halaifonua for the 15 shirt and there’s certainly no guarantee that the big Tongan would be a shoe in for a place out wide either, with the likes of Trimble, Bulumakau (*2) and Knox all looking in good form at the moment and Jonas Mikalcius beginning to settle in to a long awaited return to the game.

The forwards battled hard and defensively Anthony Allen must be pleased with the way the players have responded since his arrival. The backrow were prominent and Senitiki Nayalo in the first half and Jack Ram in the second were particularly effective. For the first time in many a season we have a genuine ball carrying 8 in Burrows and, with the likes of Peters, Nutley, Adams and Wallace, the difficulty for Rowland Winter will probably be finding the right combination when all are available. Adams put in one or two big hits and whilst he doesn’t get the recognition that perhaps others do, he’s a player who is growing on me the more I see him.

More questions than answers then (in homage to Paul I), but they are good questions to have to face.

Cov have come up against three National One sides over the last couple of weeks all of whom have proved competitive and shown that the gap between National One and mid-table Championship (at least!!!) isn’t as wide as some might suggest. Yesterday’s was a game hopefully that both sides will have got plenty from and whilst I think Blackheath probably looked the strongest of the sides we’ve faced, Cambridge and Moseley shouldn’t be fighting off relegation next April on these sorts of performances.

At least I sincerely hope not.

Another great day out at Cambridge. A friendly club that uphold all that is good about the game. All the very best for the coming season.

And, remember, whatever else is thrown at you by the powers that be…

Carry on regardless.

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Loved the Housemartins so it’s no surprise that The Beautiful South are often played in the Smith household (particularly by Sue it has to be said)…

And some of the cleverest lyrics around.

 

 

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Author: Tim

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