Jesus win 19-11 against a battling John’s to take the title in an absolute classic.
Jesus 19 – 11 John’s
Jesus have beaten John’s at home to win the league and end the Red Boys’s sequence of nine consecutive titles.
In a fantastic contest, the home side completed the double over the Red Boys this season and in doing so ended their league dominance, which has lasted for almost a decade.
The match itself was a classic tale of two halves. After all the build up, the game started with the embarrassing anti-climax of a failed kick-off, the ball not travelling the required 10 metres.
Jesus took the scrum on half way, but John’s immediately demonstrated one of the themes of the match, winning the scrum against the head.
It was an area of the game that the visitors would make their own as the game progressed, and off the back of that very first play they earned a penalty and then almost straight away another.
The second, bang in front of the posts and inside the 22 allowed them to take a lead after just 2 minutes (0-3).
That lead should have calmed the Red Boys, who were looking to regain their status as Cambridge’s top college team, which they lost to Jesus in October, but the men in Red and Black hit back fast.
First the backs cut through the John’s defence, Blucke almost sneaking in at the corner but knocking on over the line.
Then, shortly after John’s gave away the first of many silly penalties, and Tambara levelled it up (3-3).
A pattern was quickly established for much of the first half; John’s would dominate the scrum, but showed little behind it. When Jesus got the ball they made good progress, particularly causing problems out wide.
John’s would then, almost inevitably concede a penalty. Grethe in particular was often guilty, and trod a fine line with the referee all game. Of the penalties Tambara kicked a further two, and missed one to the right, putting Jesus into a 9-3 ahead.
John’s had one moment to shout about in the half, and it was very nearly a try. After a rare break out wide, captain Mathonwy Thomas kicked long down the touchline. The bounce of the ball eluded the Jesus defence but as Thomas attempted to re-gather and score the referee spotted a knock-on.
By the time half time came ahead, Tambara had slotted another penalty and Jesus, leading 12-3, looked utterly in control. John’s, outside the scrum, looked flat.
Thomas must have said something at half time though, because his side came out looking like a new team.
Scrum-half Wilson – who was allowed to play after not making the Blues squad at Twickenham – made three or four breaks and managed the game from behind his pack.
One of these breaks led to a series of lunges for the line, and having been held up twice, Grethe was able to dive over for the score. The missed conversion, from close to bang in front however, meant that the Red Boys stayed 4 points behind their opponents.
John’s continued to press, as dominant in the second half as they had been dominated in the first.
Penalties and silly errors however continued to let them down, as they consistently came up just short against a strong defence.
One mistake in particular must have made John’s hearts sink. After a break out wide was halted first by fair means and then by foul, the visitors had a touchline penalty on the 22.Going for goal would be difficult, but with a dominant scrum, a pack with momentum there were options. However, a rushed quick tap was dropped immediately, and possession handed over.
With 15 minutes to go, there was a game, and season-defining moment. Had Jesus not held on, Thomas’ huge hit on Miller which brought a turnover and then a penalty would have been seen as the turning point for the away side.
However, the decision to take the three points, in hindsight, was a mistake. The penalty meant that the last few minutes would be played with just a single point in it, but John’s never again got close to scoring.
Just moments before the end there was a moment of great sadness, but also one which showed the true spirit of college rugby. With the ball on the other side of the pitch, Jesus’ captain went down injured. The John’s fans, who had turned out in pretty good numbers, did their best to alert the referee to this, and on failing, one even ran onto the pitch in order to help the stricken flanker.
With seconds left on the clock Tambara jinked through a gap and then accelerated away from the defence to score under the posts, round off a man of the match display in which he scored all 19 points for his side, and put a flattering eight points between the sides.
It was the perfect way to clinch the title, and the whole side celebrated in style. In amongst it all was Miller, carried onto the pitch by two helpers and wincing with pain, before being taken to hospital as the crowds dispersed.
He may not have been on the pitch at the end, but his leadership today and throughout the season will be remembered as a key factor in their historic campaign.
The defeated Red Boys reacted magnanimously, but many in John’s colours will feel that the game was a major opportunity missed, their side achieving total dominance in the second half and unlucky to finish eight points down.
Thomas told The Tab: ”I’d just like to say congratulations and well played to Jesus” but added that “the Red Boys will be back”.
For now the plaudits go to Jesus, whose victory has ended the period of John’s dominance in Cambridge college rugby and who will no doubt celebrate long into the night.
Photos by Tim Sherrington.