After an epic game of rugby from Nottingham University’s Women’s team winning 14-5 against an undefeated Trent team, the main event proved that Uni’s dominance would not be total. Men’s Rugby Varsity 2010 was a tale of two teams, two halves and two centres. So much talk before the game about Uni’s ability, their superior skill in the backs and the wrecking ball nature of their pack. The analysis was right, the team it was about was wrong.
The highlights from our live broadcast:
Talk about proving the doubters wrong, Trent unceremoniously rammed the criticism of the commentators and the doubters back down their own throats. This team came out and seemed to thrive on the pressure. And where in all of this were Uni? Fumbling around desperately looking for the killer ball, wondering how on earth they were not converting the almost complete possession and territory, they enjoyed throughout the entire game.
Pre-match analysts pointed out that Trent’s strike force consisted of a powerful front row that had won no games and one half decent centre. He was not a half decent centre, he was not even a decent centre. Romey Vassell (Trent) is a centre that you would build a team around, big, strong with brilliant pace and natural instincts. The Trent coaches clearly knew that he would be zeroed in on if he got too much ball, so they only gave it to him when he was in space with room to run. It was a compliment to the Uni team that he received the ball effectively twice in the game, and even more credit to the Trent fly-half that he only gave him the ball twice, when there must have been moments where his instincts were screaming at him to give it to the big strike runner.
A nervous first seven minutes left the scores at 3-0 Trent, Willie Nelson (Uni’s fly-half) just fading a penalty to the right of the posts, Greg Moore (Trent fly-half) making no such mistake from dead in front. A text from Ben in Lenton claimed that Uni’s quality would ‘shine through’, wrong again. 3 minutes later Trent commenced one of the biggest bloodlettings in Varsity Rugby history. A good attacking position on Uni’s 22 gave Trent the first real opportunity for a try, defendable by any standards for Uni. Fortune must have been laughing in glee, and Vassell was getting ready to start the show. Trent secured the lineout, quick ball off the top, Vassell two metres off the defending shoulder of Uni’s outside centre Dom Blake began drifting to Blake’s outside shoulder. Moore missing out the inside centre hit Vassell flat and Blake fell off the tackle, surely realizing that he had blitzed too early. Vassell straightened, two on one, the inevitable. Trent’s Alex George flies into the corner. 8-0 Trent.
Shock, awe and amazement. The Uni crowd was silenced, the Trent crowd were rabid, one chance, one try. Absolutely perfect execution, somebody had not read the script to Trent, where were the nerves? Where was the team that had not won a game all season? Clearly nobody had invited that team. The touchline conversion attempt failed but nobody cared, Uni were fallible, not only that, they looked beatable.
More purpose started to creep slowly into the Uni game, Dave Heads opting to kick for touch rather than going for goal. Good phase play off the lineout spoke of more ambition and a refusal to lie down this early in the game. But still they were let down by basic errors, the referee penalising Uni for holding on five metres out from the Trent line. Trent came away, their line unsullied. The middle of the pitch became a battleground, neither side giving away decisive penalties but both scrapping furiously at ruck time. A long drop goal attempt from Trent’s Will Cotterill skewed wide, but Trent were getting to grips with Uni’s attempted fight back. Another foolish penalty let Moore extend Trent’s lead. Uni tried everything but were undone by poor handling and turnovers, the Trent back row showing industry and guile.
And then came the two-punch combination that floored Uni, Dave Heads so instrumental in his leadership and vision forced to retire with a dislocated shoulder. Rob Cleary came on, the necessity for cool headedness crucial at this stage. Nobody could have stopped the second act of Romey Vassell’s show, this time he would not be so generous to the Trent wingers. Another lineout and another missed tackle from Blake. Vassell showing less guile this time mowed through three tackles and dragged himself over the line. 0-18. Dread filled the Uni stands. Heads sank. This wasn’t just a thunderbolt, this was the whole storm smacking Uni straight between the eyes. Even a late sin binning of the Trent fly half, Alex George could not take the shine off a rampant Trent first half.
Half time could not come quick enough for Uni. Anything to stop the waves of Uni errors and the confidence sapping defence of Trent. The cheerleaders lifted Uni spirits with their impeccable half-time entertainment performance! We caught up with the President afterwards:
Ten minutes in the changing rooms and Uni re-entered the fray, their leaders coming to the fray. Bruce Thomas and Dom Blake slapping heads together in the huddle before kick off gave the clear message that Trent had one the battle of the first half, but the war still had forty minutes to run. Uni dominated the opening exchanges of the half, looking more purposeful and focused they enjoyed complete dominance and pinned Trent firmly in their own half. And then it came, the first and last hurrah of Uni’s varsity game. Jamie Ruiz a substitute on at half time, and according to Moyo, Uni’s most potent winger, dived over in the corner. A spark of life, brief and flaring but short lived. The conversion failed but the try had galvanized Uni into action. Dom Wood was brought on to try and steal more ball off Trent, not that Uni could get much more possession. Barnstorming runs from Bill Hill in midfield gave more impetus to the Uni attack, and Trent could not get their hands on the ball and had to rely heavily on Uni mistakes. There were plenty.
Despite all the pressure Uni seemed to have an incapacity for clarity of thought when they were in the Trent 22. A huge ruck two metres from the Trent line dragged in the entire Trent pack and most of their backs. The vision of Dave Heads had been replaced by a short sighted Rob Cleary, who clearly could not see the blatant 4 on 2 Uni had on the far wing. Jamie Ruiz, Fergus Jones and Jonty Hallett screamed all manner of abuse at the scrum half and still the ball did not come. Gilt edged on a platter try wasted, because the forwards got white line fever, and the scrum half did not have the control to pass the ball out. This was Uni in a nutshell, stupid mistakes, misguided faith in their ability and absolutely no right to win this game despite their possession and territorial dominance. The final nail in the coffin came when Toby Fenn was sin binned for a punch that never connected, ironic as that was uni’s game, huge, lumbering swings that never connected. Trent kept the ball in midfield eating through the minutes, knowing that Uni could not come back. Frustration crept into the Uni game, the rage and anger at a weak effort boiled over, with substitute Ruiz nearly being sent off for a blatant punch. The referee knew it was over and committed the ultimate act of embarrassment by not sending Ruiz off. Trent took the ball into the rucks, kept it in the forwards and choked the final breaths out of the Uni game.
Post-match interview with a couple of victorious Trent players:
Another Varsity and Uni managed to go one better than last year, complete misjudgement by Uni and a phenomenal rearguard action by Trent gave them, deservingly, the title of Varsity Rugby champions 2010 with a comprehensive 18-5 victory. The final image was of Jonty Hallett standing in his own 22, hands on head nobody within 50 metres of him, disconsolate, distraught and shocked to his core. Hats off to Trent, moments of brilliance, guts and determination, this was a lesson in industrial opportunist rugby.
Final Women's Score: Uni 14- 5 Trent
Final Men's Score: Uni 5- 18 Trent