Dan Lewis leaves it late to kick Cambridge to victory over Bishop's Stortford
Compelling match goes the way of the hosts
Dan Lewis was the hero for Cambridge as they earned a 22-21 win over Bishop’s Stortford in National League One at Volac Park.
In an absorbing encounter where there was so little space for either team to operate in, penalties proved to be the deciding factor.
And it was the Cambridge No 10 that had the final say, with a long-range effort with the last kick of the game.
But the result could have gone either way, such was the competitive nature of the fixture.
It is a game that has become a must watch in the last few years, with Stortford holding the upper hand with wins in the last three league meetings between the two, in National 2S.
The hallmark of those victories was their defensive line speed, a dangerous back three and a strong set piece.
Those traits have been evident again for Stortford as they have made an easy adjustment to life in National League One since last season’s promotion.
The difference this time was that Cambridge matched that defensive intensity, and held the upper hand at the set piece.
There was some determined work from the back five, with same canny play from both teams at the breakdown preventing the availability of too much quick ball.
One of the main criticisms though, would be the penalty count, which was quite high and played into the hands of the two kickers, Lewis and Stortford’s George Cullen.
In Cambridge’s case, it was a matter of struggling to manage the referee, and will probably be something that they will need to work on for future games.
But something they will definitely want to keep going forward is that high defensive line.
With a back three of Rob Duff, Chris Smith and Nick Hankin, if you give Stortford a smidge of space they will exploit it, but getting over the gain line was proving nigh impossible for them.
There was a spell in the first half, around the 20-minute mark, where Stortford had a large amount of threatening possession in and around the hosts’ 22, but they just kept being knocked back by the thick red line. And it was impressive defending to watch.
At that point it was 3-3, with Cullen’s fourth minute penalty matched by one from Lewis in the eighth minute.
After weathering that spell from Stortford, Cambridge’s Tom Nutley was sin-binned for an infringement at the breakdown, with Cullen converting the resultant penalty.
But while he was in the bin, the ever-impressive Lewis kicked through on a free ball for Albert Portsmouth to race on to for the try. Lewis kicked the conversion for a 10-6 lead.
However, Stortford had the half-time advantage as after a spell attacking the line, Matt Tomlinson did well to roll in the tackle to ground the ball for Stortford, and Cullen converted for 13-10.
It was more of the same after the break, as Lewis landed penalties in the 45th and 50th minutes to put Cambridge 16-13 in front.
On the hour, Cullen got another three points for Stortford to draw things level, but Lewis replied six minutes later to make it 19-16.
Then it looked as if disaster had struck for Cambridge, as with a matter of minutes remaining, Seb Brownhill latched on to what appeared to be an overthrow at the line-out to ghost into space to touch down, but the conversion was missed.
In the dying embers of the match, Cambridge’s scrum – which had been strong throughout with Shane Moynihan, Harry Morley, Henry Peck, Alex Rayment and Cameron Ruddock all playing key roles in the front row at various points – earned a central penalty close to halfway.
So Lewis lined up the kick, and although it was fading towards the end, it had enough legs to go over the posts to earn Cambridge victory in a thoroughly engaging game.
Cambridge: M Ayrton; Hutchinson, Portsmouth, Hema, Elvers; Lewis, Barker; Morley, Rayment, Moynihan, Bretag-Norris, Conquest, Laxton, McCloud, Nutley.
Replacements: Fox (Nutley, 54), Keenan (Barker, 66), Ruddock (Rayment, 71), Peck (Moynihan, 75).
Bishop’s Stortford: Duff; Smith, Winter, Riddington, Hankin; Cullen, Banks; Roberts, Caulfield, Edwards, Apperley, Tomlinson, Ball, Jones, Leo.
Replacements: James (Caulfield, 40), Banks (Jones, 66), Brownhill (Edwards, 66), Coleman (Banks, 68), Neville (Riddington, 68).
Referee: Calum Howard.
Sin bin: Cambridge – Nutley (technical offence, 25).
Scorers: 4min Cullen pen (0-3), 8 Lewis pen (3-3), 26 Cullen pen (3-6), 33 Portsmouth try – Lewis con (10-6), 40 Tomlinson try – Cullen con (10-13), 45 Lewis pen (13-13), 50 Lewis pen (16-13), 60 Cullen pen (16-16), 66 Lewis pen (19-16), 78 Brownhill try (19-21), 80+5 Lewis pen (22-21).