Uni Rugby League lost out to Trent 14-24 in a wet and windy Varsity match on Saturday. Despite having a large percentage of territory and possession, especially in the first half, Uni were unable to win the game which, due to the conditions, was scrappy in parts.
The 2nds had started the afternoon well by beating their counterparts and this game set the tone for the second match; hard hitting and defensively based. However, whilst the 2nds were able to keep Trent scoreless, the 1st XIII had less success despite early dominance. Given the rain, both teams seemed keen to test the opposition under the high ball early on and the Uni team was more up to the challenge with Trent making numerous errors. Shortly after kick off, Rory Thomas suffered an injury which forced an interchange but this did not unsettle the team and they were able to absorb Trent pressure: even when collecting up and unders on their own try line. A resolute defence ensured that persistent Trent mistakes allowed Uni to keep a majority of the possession and territory, nearly resulting in the first score after 14 minutes. A spilt ball and kick through led to several players scrambling for the ball over the try line, but the touch judge ruled the ball as grounded first by a Trent player giving them a drop-out.
But Uni kept going and they claimed the first points on 18 minutes by taking a couple of phases up the middle then spreading the ball out wide for an stylish try. Matt Shields converted from far out, giving Uni a deserved 6-0 lead. This set the tone for the majority of the first half with Uni props often taking the ball up the middle to keep momentum and territory with Trent’s only real pressure a result of penalties. Big hits from both sides characterised the majority of play and, whilst not the most attractive game, it was highly entertaining. On 31 minutes, Uni scored their second try of the afternoon after a great break by Jonny Bell. Again spreading the ball wide, Uni managed to finish off good work as they crashed over in the left corner – underlining their domination of the early exchanges. Although the difficult conversion was missed, the score was now 10-0 Uni and they looked in control. Despite the rain falling harder and some poor kicking by Trent, they surprised Uni in finishing the half stronger and crossing for their first 6 pointer. Since the first 10 minutes Trent had not managed a significant attack on the Uni try line but on 37 minutes they worked the ball up field and took their opportunity to leave the half time score 10-6.
Conditions improved for the start of the second half, but with the wind now in Trent’s favour they started the brighter and Uni became guilty of a number of errors. After only five minutes, Trent’s first chance went begging after a clever kick into space left the winger an open 40 metre run in, only for him to knock on under no pressure. Trent made no mistake eight minutes later, however, and took the lead for the first time with another 6 pointer. Now playing more settled rugby, Trent again took advantage of good field position by selling a dummy and going in from close range under the posts. This seemed to galvanise the Uni team to regain some of their first half intensity. Winning successive penalties helped them move up field with Bell again a prominent feature, nearly scoring from a grubber. After the Trent drop-out, Uni managed to regain the lead with a score just after 60 minutes by completing their set of six and another grubber setting up the try. However, the conversion was again missed leaving Uni with a narrow 14-12 lead.
With the game moving into the final quarter, both teams began to play more expansive rugby; Trent proving the more clinical on several occasions. On 72 minutes the first break out try came as Trent, from their own half, overlapped as the Trent winger used an impressive burst of pace to avoid the covering tackles. With the conversion, the score read 14-18 and left Uni needing to do all the work to stay in the game. A second break out in as many minutes by Trent could have put the game away if not for a great tracking back tackle by Uni. Into the last ten minutes and the physicality of the game boiled over with a brawl causing the ref to show two red cards, both to subs, for coming onto the pitch to be involved. With both teams fired up, Uni attempted to break through the Trent defence to score the winning points. Despite this, Trent proved up to the challenge with the only scare coming in the last eight minutes as a charge down was cleared on the second attempt. Uni’s desperation to regain the ball left them exposed at the back and allowed Trent to push down the other end of the field to score again clinically and finish the game off. The conversion left Trent jubilant winners 24-14 with the final play.
The ten point margin failed to do justice to the intensity of a match played at a high competitive level. Both sides dominated during different periods but Trent’s ability to finish possession with tries proved decisive. Credit must be given to both teams’ defence which ensured a game that could have been ruined by the weather was closely fought and enthralling to the last minute.
Uni – 14 Trent – 24
Images by Lamar Francois