After the disappointment of Superbowl weekend when American Football Varsity was postponed, the mantle of the opening fixture of this year’s series fell to Rugby League. And it didn’t fail to excite.
With the Uni Seconds being convincingly beaten in the earlier game of the day, one could certainly forgive First Team Captain Olly Beech and the rest of his team for feeling the pressure. Trent came into the fixture as firm favourites after a more convincing season than Uni’s stop-start year, and it looked certain to be a day for the form book as Trent built a convincing lead in the first half.
Uni began the game with several mistakes, and Trent looked set to capitalise until a knock on over the line allowed the underdogs some respite. But fortune looked to have run out by the quarter-hour mark, with Trent scoring two tries in quick succession after a smart grubber and indiscipline on the part of Uni. Both times, however, they missed their kicks, putting the score at 8-0.
After some more Trent pressure, Uni finally had a break of their own with a Meddings run. Unfortunately he failed to make the offload, and allowed Trent to recover. Minutes later, a forward pass from Uni gave Trent great field position, and another score seemed on the cards. A knock-on ended the attack, and the Uni crowd finally began to get behind their team, urging them to get something on the scoreboard before the interval.
They would have to wait until after Trent ran in their third try of the day. Some good tackling and spreading the play wide put the men in pink three scores up. Again, the conversion was missed, and after some resurgence from Uni, Trent looked like they may concede for the first time in the game. Uni began to enjoy some prolonged possession in front of the Trent posts, until the ball was dropped and knocked on. Trent took the ball straight down the other end, looking for try number four, but out of nowhere Beech made a break, offloading to Matthew Hammond who ran the ball over the line. With his 100% conversion rate on the line, Beech didn’t disappoint as he kicked the extras.
The old sporting adage of being most vulnerable after you score came back to haunt the spurred-on Uni team, who for all their endeavour were beginning to tire as the half drew to a close. A simple burst through the middle put Trent under the posts, from where the kicker could make no mistakes. His first conversion put the scores at 18-6 with minutes left in the half.
The interval provided an opportunity for both teams to evaluate and change things ahead of the next forty minutes. It was undeniably Trent’s half, and it appeared the hard work in training - and coaching from Superleague and Challenge Cup winning coach, Tony Smith - would come to nothing. Nevertheless, the solitary Uni try meant there was still a match to be won.
Despite the motivational words from the Uni coaching staff at the break, Trent started the second half the better, edging close to the line only to be halted by Portelly’s last gasp tackling. Uni finally turned on the style fifteen minutes into the half with a break from Wicks, before minutes layer Will Meddings, who had played a solid game until that point, was able to dive over for a converted try with another successful kick from Beech. Several breaks later, Uni went over again; this time Shaun McManus getting the points after great play by Portelly to make the packed Harvey Hadden Stadium erupt. After Beech again kicked the extras, the scores were tied with plenty of time for more drama.
Both teams did not disappoint. Trent continued to pour into the Uni half as they did so well in the first forty minutes, only to be repelled by strong defending by Beech among others. After a kick from Butcher, Uni began to press into Trent territory and were able to pin the opposition on their line. However, a wayward kick from Beech, his first of the day after an otherwise flawless performance, let Trent off the hook.
With minutes to go until the death, a penalty was awarded to Uni after another break fell short. After some deliberation, and against the expectations of the now-buzzing Uni fans, the team elected not to take a penalty kick in favour of going for the full six points.
Their decision was justified. Another surge from Meddings broke the deadlock with seconds to spare, and although Beech failed with his final kick of the day, Uni held firm in the last throes to ensure a famous 22-18 victory, and the first point of this year’s Varsity series.
URN would like to thank Henry Williams for his analysis on the day.