Cause for cheer despite Cambridge blues
Richard Kitzinger reports from Saturday’s encounter in East Anglia.
It was always likely to be a tough assignment for Taunton Titans at Volac Park, and so it proved. Cambridge, with maximum league points from their opening two fixtures, took a while to work out how to break the Titans’ defence but were ultimately able to do so with regularity and find their way to the try line on seven occasions.
For all that the final score line of 39-14 does not look good, the Taunton coaches can take comfort from several areas of the game. During the first quarter of an hour, it looked as though the visitors from Somerset were the more likely to score. Smartly kitted out in the new away strip in the blue of major sponsors British Gas, the Titans worked their way deep into Cambridge territory. Taken aback, Cambridge looked unsure how to handle such assertive rugby and when captain George Gosling ran a good line off a line-out he picked out Frankie Dart. The fly-half carried possession into the 22 but in the next phase a handling error allowed Cambridge to break free, thereby setting the script for the majority of Taunton’s attacking sallies.
The scoreboard stalemate was broken in this fashion. Charlie Wright won a penalty in the middle of the field for Taunton with some good jackalling but soon afterwards Cambridge gobbled up loose ball from scrappy handling in the midfield. This time their full-back Kieron Duffin flipped the ball out to right wing Scott Lloyds who went over wide out. Barely had the Titans reassembled their ranks than they were breached again in near-identical fashion on the opposite flank. Neither try was converted though and the home side was far from out of sight.
The inventive Dart was energetic, his passes obliging the outside backs to come onto the ball at pace. Taunton registered their opening points when the young fly-half slipped through a half-gap on the left wing, beat two men and drew the final defender in order to put through left-wing Greg Kitson. It was a glimpse of what this inexperienced Taunton back division could achieve, though it was to remain the highlight of their game. Cambridge added two further unconverted tries for a 20-7 half-time lead.
Taunton began the second half with renewed energy and dominated territory. The platform was laid by the forwards who competed on fairly even terms with their opponents throughout the afternoon. Cambridge, however, had rumbled the tactics of both the power thrusts of Sam Prior and the rangy running of Ratu Vakalutukali and the home side were prepared to be patient and await Titans’ errors. They were clinical in capitalising on loose balls and charged down kicks and added another try before the fiftieth minute.
When sustained Taunton pressure allowed Gosling to burrow over from a close-range pick-and-go there was a feeling that Titans could build on the momentum and target four tries for a bonus point, even if the win was beyond reach. However, Cambridge killed the game with a pair of tries worked from line-out drives and ran out victors by 39 points to 14.
All things considered Tony Yapp and his fellow coaches will have noted that their Taunton side is capable of going head-to-head for long periods of games but on this occasion was profligate with their possession. Some of the decision-making that led to surrendering turnovers came from panicked attempts to keep the ball alive which perhaps reflects the lack of experience of rugby at this level, particularly amongst the backs. Up front the pack competed in the scrummage and in the loose but Titans’ line-out was inconsistent. Things don’t get much easier though with another long coach trip to the outskirts of Manchester this coming weekend to take on free-scoring and table-topping Sale FC.