Cambridge made it four wins in a row to complete their Varsity Match build-up on a high note as they beat the Steele-Bodger XV for the ninth time in 10 years.
Light Blues skipper Stephen Leonard will take the morning off from his PHd studies on Friday morning to don his colours blazer and cap and cycle around the town to announce to his squad who is in, and who is not, for the annual showdown with Oxford at Twickenham Stadium on Thursday, 12 December.
The back row man admitted to feeling “quietly confident” at the end of his side’s four try triumph, even though it took the home side 50 minutes to come to terms with the physical invitation team. Three second half tries then steered them home to a convincing win in the end.
Now Leonard and head coach James Shanahan have a day to determine who makes the starting XV for Twickenham, although the international lock pairing of James Horwill and Flip van der Merwe probably select themselves. Their experience, calm influence and power shone through and they both can’t wait to trot out at the home of English rugby once again.
An even first half saw the Light Blues go into the break with a 10-7 lead. The visitors dominated the opening quarter and impressive Boroughmuir centre Suwi Chimbale opened the scoring with an opportunist try from close range after 12 minutes.
Former Oxford University outside half George Cullen, whose father, John, won a Cambridge Blue, added the extras, but the response from the Light Blues was immediate. They worked their way into Steele-Bodger territory and livewire scrum half Chris Bell exploded through a gap to score a try that his half-back partner Mike Phillips converted.
A great cross-field run by Fergus Jemphrey looked to have created a try for fellow wing Tom Lovelace soon after, but the move was brought back for a forward pass. Nevertheless, Leonard’s men went into the sheds with their noses in front thanks to a simple penalty from Phillips on the stroke of half-time.
The 2017 Cambridge captain, Charlie Amesbury, sparked a second try for the invitation team six minutes into the second half when he broke through the first line of defence before linking with Chibale, who sent another former Blue, Archie Russell, over in the left corner.
Cullen couldn’t convert that one, but the Steele-Bodger XV were ahead and on track to give captain for the fifth time, Blackheath’s Stefan Liebenberg, a real shot at a first win. But Phillips’ second penalty in the 52nd minute edged the Light Blues back ahead and from there on they grew in confidence.
A strong driving line-out earned them a penalty try and forced Bodger’s tight head prop Josh Scott to spend 10 minutes on the sidelines. That put huge pressure on the visitors, who then found themselves being exploited in the wide open spaces.
A brilliant piece of scavenging at a ruck on half-way got the ball back for Cambridge and quick passing to the left wing allowed Jemphrey to show off his pace before sending the ball inside to the supporting full back Joey Gatus for the first of his two tries.
It was Bell, now playing at No 10, who sent Gatus in for his second score and Phillips converted them both to extend the lead to 22 points.
The Steele-Bodger XV did have the last word, though, with a second try from Chibale than Cullen improved. On a day when the crowd showed their appreciation for the recently departed Micky Steele-Bodger, founder of the fixture way back in 1948, with a minute’s applause, it was the perfect way to end another great rugby day at Grange Road.
Scorers: Cambridge: Tries: J Gatus 2, C Bell, Pen Try; Cons: M Phillips 3; Pens: M Phillips 2. Steele-Bodger XV: Tries: S Chibale 2, A Russell; Cons: G Cullen 2.
Cambridge: Joey Gatus * (Corpus Christi); Tom Lovelace (Hughes Hall), Rory Triniman * (Hughes Hall), Charlie Watson (Selwyn), Fergus Jemphrey (Homerton); Mike Phillips * (Emmanuel), Chris Bell *(Emmanuel); Charlie MacCallum *(Downing), Miles Huppatz *(Downing), Ed Harborne (Clare), James Horwill (Queens’), Flip Van Der Merwe (Queens’), Tom Walton (St John’s), Sean McMahon * (Gonville & Caius), Stephen Leonard * (Emmanuel, captain)
Reps: Sam Schusman * (Magdalene), Daniel Collins (Fitzwilliam), George Cook (Robinson), Rowan Beckett * (Peterhouse), Oliver Smart * (Downing), Archie Smeaton (Queens’), Al Gliksten (Robinson), Sean Mackle (Hughes Hall), Dougal Russell (St John’s)
* Denotes Blue
Steele-Bodger XV: Charlie Amesbury * (Petersfield); Nick Foster (Blackheath), Suwi Chibale (Boroughmuir), Tom O’Toole (Barnes), Archie Russell * (Boroughmuir); George Cullen (Bishops Stortford), Stefan Liebenberg (Blackheath, captain); Michael Hughes (Tynedale), Declan Caulfield (Bishops Stortford), Joss Scott (Heriot’s), Fred Betteridge (Coventry), Francois van der Merwe (London Business School), Joe Collingham (Stourbridge), Dan Edgar (London Scottish), Ciaran Moore (Blackheath)
Referee: George Richards (RFU)