Published: 18:12, 25 January 2020
| Updated: 18:30, 25 January 2020
The winning run goes on, just.
Matt Hema’s try in the final play of the game secured Cambridge a hard-earned 29-28 win over Canterbury at Volac Park, their sixth consecutive victory.
They were made to work extremely hard for it by the National League One’s bottom side, whose display earned a well-deserved ovation from the hosts’ supporters as they left the field.
Whether it was a case of playing the fixture rather than the opposition, or just a bad day at the office, Cambridge did not meet the high standards they have set in their previous five wins.
However, that may be to overlook the display of Canterbury and it makes it difficult to pitch the two performances.
The game had the full gamut of emotions, the agony for Canterbury fans and the ecstasy for Cambridge supporters but, and although there may have only been a handful in the crowd, for neutrals it wasenjoyable.
It was the ideal start for Cambridge as Andrew Henderson took an inside pass from Lawrence Rayner to race in under the posts inside the first two minutes, with Ben Penfold, making his 100th appearance for Cambridge, kicking the conversion.
They were enjoying the large amount of territory and possession, and Canterbury were struggling to clear their lines.
The visitors were putting in a big defensive performance but, by committing so many to the break down and expanding so much energy going back and forth across the pitch in defence, you were left to wonder whether they could maintain it for 80 minutes.
The problem for Cambridge is that the scoreboard was not moving, it was stuck on 7-0.
The set-piece was strong, with the line-out work of Gareth Baxter and Rob Conquest imperious, but that incision through the visitors’ defence would not arrive.
Canterbury started to make minor tweaks and adjustments to their game, seemingly sending in less players to the contact area, and this was limiting the space for Cambridge to run into.
The hosts’ patience was rewarded in the 27th minute though, as good play along the line eventually saw Hema apply the finishing drive for his first try, converted by Penfold.
But the visitors’ grew as an attacking force, heaping the pressure on the Cambridge 22.
A succession of offsides eventually led to a ‘team’ yellow card for flanker Matt Dawson, and there followed a series of 5m scrums for Canterbury.
That bit of nous from the hosts, which eventually saw Henderson join the pack to make up the numbers, denied the visitors the chance to push forward at the set piece, and Cambridge’s good defence saw them clear their lines.
Rather than be dispirited that they could not make the extra man tell at the scrum though, Canterbury showed great resolve to then run back at their opponents and Alex Meads touched down, with Daniel Smart conversion making it 14-7 at half time.
The response from Cambridge at the start of the second half was perfect.
Rayner again found Henderson cutting an incisive line to touch down in almost identical fashion to his first try. Penfold’s conversion made it 21-7.
What happened next was probably not to be expected.
Starved of possession, Cambridge lost their foothold on the match.
Canterbury almost went back to basics and played a percentage game, doing the simple things well.
A series of pick and gos led to Ricky Macintosh touching down their second try after 49 minutes, with Smart kicking the extras.
In the 54th minute, they set up a catch and drive for the line and, having been halted, spread play along the line, with Smart getting the final pass away for Sean Stapleton to touch down. It was a simple conversion for Smart to make it 21-21.
With Cambridge unable to look after possession, Canterbury seized on a box kick from the visitors seven minutes later. Going through the phases, they worked their way over the line through Tristan King.
It was only a second try bonus point - for scoring four in a game - that Canterbury have clinched all season, and it was well deserved. And with Smart’s conversion, it gave them a 28-21 lead.
Cambridge upped the ante and, with a sign of the growing intelligence of the side, when awarded a penalty under the posts in the 71st minute, rather than panic and either go for touch or take a scrum in search of a try, Penfold put the ball between the posts to reduce the arrears.
It showed belief in their own ability, and patience and confidence and as a play entered the final minute, possession was moved left for Hema to run in on the diagonal to touch down and clinch a one-point win.
You could not help but feel a little sympathy for Canterbury, who had put so much into the game and were so close to only a second win of the season.
But Cambridge again showed the ability to dig deep to earn a sixth victory in a row.
Cambridge: Tarrant; Martin, Hema, Penfold, Henderson; Rayner, Adamson; Meek, Priestley, Peck, Conquest, Baxter, McCloud, Dawson, Adams.
Replacements: Ibrahim (Meek, 40), Culverhouse (Peck, 40), Tunney (Adams, 44), Creighton (Adamson, 56), Gatus (Rayner, 68), Adams (McCloud, 68).
Canterbury: Corcoran; Mackintosh, Morgan, Waddington, Grimes; Meads, Smart; Young, Rogers, Lusher, Cadman, Corker, Rouse, Stapleton, Oliver.
Replacements: King (Rogers, 56), North (Lusher, 56), Stephens (Oliver 68), Edwards (Cadman, 78).
Scorers: 2min Henderson try - Penfold con (7-0), 27 Hema try - Penfold con (14-0), 40+1 Meads try - Smart con (14-7), 43 Henderson try - Penfold con (21-7), 49 Mackintosh try - Smart con (21-14), 54 Stapleton try - Smart con (21-21), 61 King try - Smart con (21-28), 71 Penfold pen (24-28), 80+3 Hema try (29-28).
Referee: Joe James.
Sin bin: Cambridge - Dawson (technical offence, 34), Tarrant (foul play, 53).
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