by Isaac Hinchcliff
Kicking off their Lent term fixture list with a trip to their oldest and fiercest rivals, the Cambridge men’s first team looked to repeat the outcome of their first fixture with the boys in dark blue in the BUCS league, a solid 13-9 victory at Cambridge’s designated home pool in Northampton. Coming off the back of a fantastic tour in Budapest, in which a combination of intense training and team bonding left the core squad feeling both fitter and more together, this seemed completely achievable. However, as is often the case in Oxbridge crunch matches, form often tends to go out the window…
The first quarter was a tight affair with Cambridge finishing marginally behind at 3-2, after goals from captain Robert Gourley and young hotshot fresher Isaac Hinchliffe. Despite the close scoreline the boys were clearly off the pace. There was not enough of the vintage straight driving and lighting-speed counter attacks that had so troubled the Oxford team in the first meeting this year. Whether or not this was due to the lengthy car travel down or the insufficient warm-up, there was no denying that the Cambridge team were in a state lethargy.
Unfortunately , this early slowness by the boys was not to go unpunished. In the second quarter Oxford wrestled their way into the driving seat, making good use of their physicality to capitalise on the lapses in concentration from the light blues. The quarter ended badly for Cambridge, at 8-4, leaving them a hefty task if they were to go on and clinch the game in the second half.
Despite this, and what seemed like an early sucker-punch goal from Oxford to make it 9-4, the Cambridge boys came storming back in the third quarter and dominated the Oxford team. We started to see much more of that blistering pace that Cambridge usually use so well with speedsters like Alex Norcliffe and James Mok tearing up and down the pool and exposing the wilting stamina of the Oxford players. However, one man above any other sparked this Cambridge revival. In the third quarter the Rosenblatt crowd was treated to what one could only describe as the Robert Gourley show. The co-captain and ex-Great Britain star, hauled the team back into the game with a brilliant goal rush. Tearing up and down the pool, the man was clearly on a mission, leaving helpless defenders in his wake and mercilessly humiliating the keeper with a quite frankly offensive lob at one point. At the end of the quarter the bench reported his claims of back pain from “carrying the whole team”. However, it was not just the attacking prowess of Robert Gourley which got the boys back into the game. Even more vital was the even fiercer and more agressive defending for the team that ex-pit man Patrick Charles was at the heart of. He performed outstandingly at the back, keeping the the centre forward position under lock and key with some very smart and measured defending allowing us to stump the Oxf*** boys. After this revival, Cambridge were right back in the match at 9-7 despite also missing a fair number of important chances.
The fourth quarter started in a familiar vain, with fresher Hinchliffe again popping up on five meters to sling in a clever bounce shot into the left hand side of the goal to put the Cambridge to within a goal of their ancient rivals. Unfortunately, however, the boys came to rue their missed chances and when the Oxford team eventually regained their foothold in the game, the match started to slip away in the dying stages, despite continued hard work from the Cambridge team. Although team golden boy and star player Ben Tinkler-Davies popped up late on to slap in from two meters in the dying stages, it was too little, too late.
The game finished 13-10 despite a late flourish from Cambridge and the lads were left feeling disappointed but not disheartened by the game’s outcome. It was a very hard-fought game of fine margins, and will provide important lessons for the onslaught of BUCS matches to come this term and fire on the team for the imminent varsity match in Cambridge on the 25th of February. A valiant performance by the light blues and one which leave them confident they can progress as a side as the season continues.