JP Casey reports on the biggest rugby match in the UCL calendar
Women’s Game – UCL pace and support play overcame individual mistakes
KCL 12 – 30 UCL
It’d be boring and insulting to say that UCL won because of plucky teamwork in the face of individually superior opponents from King’s, like this is the 1994 comedy sports film Little Giants, but the eventual winners performed as a much more cohesive unit, in both attack and defence. The team’s go-ahead try from flanker Rachel Atemie came from a series of runs, broken tackles and offloads from ever-impressive centres Gough-Walters and Chamberlain, and fly-half Chan, using pace and support runs to stretch the King’s defence to breaking point.
Equally, the UCL defence was relentless in the first half, limiting King’s to an unconverted try. The whole team was quick to close down runners from rucks, and scrum-half Yuna Murayama was aggressive in hitting the King’s number eight as she tried to run from behind the scrum, forcing a knock-on after just five minutes. At times UCL’s aggression became a problem, with King’s able to pull defenders out of place and find gaps with well-drilled crosses and pivots from behind rucks, but the defence held. King’s tries came through their forwards – a turned-over UCL scrum and a short run-in from a King’s scrum in the corner – not complex back play.
UCL made a number of other mistakes on the day; there were handling errors, such as two line-outs not being straight, and poor decision-making, in conceding 5m scrums from not clearing the ball to touch when it had been turned over. Also, despite the team’s aggression in defence, the individual tackling was ineffective; as a result, the UCL back line was very narrow, as they committed more players around the breakdown to defend against power runs from forwards, which left space on the wings.
But this is nit-picking. UCL were the faster, better team; they showed mental toughness to reply to King’s second try with five points of their own within a minute of conceding, and enough attacking flair to put up thirty points, with the penultimate try – a kick over the King’s fullback followed by an excellent chase from the whole team – epitomising their physical relentlessness, and readiness to take risks. This was an impressive team performance, and a deserved win.
Men’s game – UCL defended stoutly and played smart, but couldn’t sustain pressure
KCL 13 – 10 UCL
I’m not going to scapegoat the UCL kicker for this one, who missed two penalties that could have influenced the outcome of the game; it’s lazy writing on my part, and ignores both the wider positives and negatives from the men’s performance. I also can’t really point the finger too much, because I’d miscounted the series score before the game, so thought UCL had lost when the final whistle blew, and slumped off into the Mill Hill night feeling like a loser, when really I’m just innumerate.
UCL defended superbly, limiting King’s to just three points while down to fourteen after prop Nicholas Edmonds was sin-binned, and held King’s at the 5m line for a five-minute stretch in the second half, repelling attacks and ultimately turning the ball over and clearing through some excellent counter-rucking. Scrum-half Joe Heagerty and wing Olukayode Awobowale were particularly impressive, recording a try-saving tackle each.
Beyond goal-line stands, the UCL defence was sophisticated; Heagerty would often drop a little deeper than the rest of the defensive line, and the wings would push further back, staying as deep as the fullback, creating three levels of defence. King’s failed to penetrate this system until a smart tapped penalty with ten minutes to go put them ahead for the win, which was the result of an opportunistic attack rather than a UCL mistake.
UCL also played intelligently, taking advantage of King’s pushed-up wings to kick for territory, and exploiting their opponents’ mistakes effectively: their try came from a dropped King’s pass, which led to a line-out, a maul, and a series of quick passes among the backs that ended up with centre Stamp crossing the line for UCL’s only try.
Yet this score was indicative of UCL’s main weakness in the game: they scored from taking advantage of a King’s mistake, but drops and missed passes meant they were unable to exert the kind of sustained pressure inside the King’s 22 that the eventual winners were able to. In chasing the game, for instance, King’s were able to turn over a scrum on their own 5m line which, had UCL secured possession, would probably have led to a game-tying penalty, and possibly to a game-winning try. Ultimately, UCL were a scrum and a few handling errors away from a different result.
But hey-ho, we won VARSITY! The final score at 12-9, we showed great resolve over this past fortnight considering we were 7-3 down at the half-way point. We came out, as we knew we would, victors. That deserves a pint or two I’d say!
All image credits: Danté Kim, Pi Photographer