Raphaël Jucobin reports on the Varsity Rugby match which secured UCL the 2018 Varsity victory.
It was a day of mixed emotions for UCL’s rugby teams at the Allianz Park on Friday night, but ultimately the Varsity win was clinched in a tense final match to hand UCL the overall 18-17 win in the series. While it was heartbreak for the Women’s team as King’s bundled over the only try in the game at the death, it was two first half scores from the Men’s that saw them through a tightly contested game to secure a 15-11 victory.
The Women’s game kicked off first late in the afternoon under poor weather conditions as the afternoon was punctuated by showers of rain every now and then. Speaking before the game, vice-captain Jen Smith had commented that the teams were evenly matched, UCL having come off a good run of form, and that the game would depend on who could come out of the blocks the quickest at the start.
Much of the first half, however, would see UCL pegged back in their own half as King’s dominated the game in terms of territory but would be denied on the scoreboard, with every attack meeting a resilient defence. Meanwhile, UCL enjoyed the occasional break through the opposition line, notably by captain Kate Bovey who fended off 2 players to make inroads into the KCL half after 10 minutes. Nevertheless, the rest of the opening phases of play would be in UCL’s 22, although a string of handling errors would see last year’s victors fail to capitalise on their dominance in possession. Despite finding themselves under pressure for much of the first half, UCL consistently managed to break up their opponents’ play and constantly clear their lines.
The second half started in the same vein, with every KCL attempt to break the lines stopped by strong defending. Unfortunately, UCL could not keep this up for the whole game, and after a monumental defensive effort in their 22 that lasted a good chunk of the game, King’s finally pushed over the line in the cruellest of endings for UCL.
With the series now at 17-17 overall, the pressure was on the men’s team to deliver the Varsity title for UCL in the final fixture. Captain Kayode Awobowale, though, remained calm in the lead up to the match, assuring that his team would ‘thrive under the pressure’. KCL took the kick off, and almost immediately claimed the first penalty of the match from a scrum, which was slotted over directly in front of the posts, giving the boys from the Strand an early 3-0 lead. UCL quickly took control, afterwards, though, with quick interplay from the backs helping the team break into the King’s 22 on a number of occasions. Following on from a missed kick at the posts, the team momentarily lost their grip on the game, with turnover from King’s leading to a penalty that saw them double their lead. In these testing moments of the match, it was UCL’s physicality that saw them keep the opposition at bay, with some great work at the breakdown and effective tackling, notably by flanker Peter Benson.
Fast out of their defensive line, their resilience paid off midway through the first half as the ball was won back, and a break lead to an overload on the left flank and the move was finished off by centre Thomas Horner. The conversion was kicked over, edging UCL into a 6-7 lead. The team’s second try would come within a matter of minutes as they began to hit their stride, this time from a ball over the top of the defence from scrum half Noah Arron bouncing favourably for Kayode Awobowale who touched down while evading the retreating KCL defence. Despite the missed the conversion, UCL now extended their lead to 6-12. The half time whistle could not have come at a better time for King’s, who were struggling to keep out a side simply too fast on the ball for them.
Nevertheless, King’s came out of the blocks faster in the second half and put UCL on the back foot. Once again, the defence stood strong and the team emerged from this period following a turnover at the breakdown and, midway through the half, the team was dominating the territory, even if the game had slowed down.
Eventually UCL’s persistence and consistent breaking of the gain line paid off as they steered further clear with a penalty to take the score to 6-15. There was a late scare as King’s scored a try of their own, but level heads and a crucial scrum win at the end secured the win as well as the closest Varsity series of recent times.
Speaking at the end of the match, the UCL captain commented that it was his players’ ‘mental toughness’ that got them over the line, while fans commented that the territory and physicality were the key factors in deciding the game.
Women’s match: UCL 0-5 KCL
Men’s match: UCL 15-11 KCL
Featured image credit: Tamás Cserép