The other Rugby Club in Cambridge
4 November 2012
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I hadn’t been to Cantabrigian Rugby Club for over three years so I was looking forward to visiting again on Saturday. I was surprised at the number of people that weren’t aware of the club when I said I was going there, such is the dominance of the two National League clubs in the city, Cambridge and Shelford. Despite being eclipsed in playing terms by their neighbours, Cantabs run three sides and were promoted into the London Leagues at the end of last season where they are holding their own, so I was curious to see how they managed to maintain their playing strength.
The ground is sandwiched between a railway line and one of the most expensive streets in Cambridge, Sedley Taylor Road, and is shared with Hills Road Sixth Form College. Founded after the war as Old Cantabrigians by former pupils of the Cambridgeshire High School for Boys, it had a ready supply of players until the school became the Sixth Form College and now players are drawn from all over the area. But why come to Cantabs with its two pitches and modest clubhouse. a hundred yards away from a 1930’s changing pavilion, when both Cambridge and Shelford offer floodlit training and playing, spacious clubhouses with multiple bars and modern facilities including grandstand seating?
I began to get some clues as I entered the clubhouse which was being prepared for the pre-match lunch for about fifty guests. A log fire was being lit and as others arrived the bar area filled with the sound of old friends exchanging stories, much like most rugby clubs. It is fair to say that many of the guests were at the older end of the spectrum but there was no doubting their passion for the game and their support for their club. A special mention for the excellent ‘Full English’ bitter from the local Cottenham Brewery, an excellent beer and a good reason to support micro-breweries. Lunch itself was different to the norm with a local Chinese restaurant bringing in a variety of dishes, a change to the usual soup followed by meat and vegetables.
I spoke to Chairman Dave Norman and President Nigel Faben who told me that a new changing pavilion was about to be built much closer to the the clubhouse which they hope to extend in the future. Talking to them about players it was clear that Cantabs offers something different, something altogether more intimate than Cambridge and Shelford are able to. The larger clubs successfully run five adult sides and big youth and mini sections so have high running costs and understandably there is a commercial imperative to keep their income streams high. But Cantabs have fewer financial concerns and players appreciate the more relaxed feel and grass-roots ethos, so for those in Cambridge wanting to play league rugby but can’t make the grade at National League level, it is the natural choice without travelling to clubs outside the city.
The opponents on the day were bottom of the table East London so a win was expected and it wasn’t long until Cantabs were on the score sheet. A dominant first half saw the home side take an unassailable 41-0 lead at the break and although East London put up a better show in the second half the final score of 65-5 was a fair reflection of the difference in quality between the sides.
Click here for pictures from the game
After a final pint of Full English I left the clubhouse full of contented players and supporters, happy with the day’s results (the second XV had a home win against Renegades). The victory over East London puts Cantabs in sixth place in the league but just four points behind leaders Norwich. A run of similar results could see Cantabs challenge for a second successive promotion and maybe then more people will be aware that there is a third rugby club in Cambridge.