Sport | Varsity – Grand Finale victory eludes Uni
Rugby Union 1st XV
Met 25 – 15 Uni
The atmosphere was already electrifying. The usual chants were swinging between the two opposite sides of Headingley Stadium like a pendulum. Everything was ready for another memorable Varsity finale, except one thing.
There was no rain.
Maybe that’s why Uni weren’t prepared for the first Met attack. Uni’s kick off went straight into touch, and the resulting line out produced a swift passing move to the opposite side of the pitch, where winger Robbie Martie completely outpaced the Uni defence and gave Met a 5-0 lead after just one minute.
The boys in green were rocked, and from then on followed a scrappy period in the match for both teams, as neither side could assert their dominance with the ball.
Uni were beginning to gain a foothold on the game, forcing Met into a series of errors culminating in a penalty opportunity in the 13th minute. Jak Gaff attempted the kick for three points from just inside Met’s half, but the ambitious effort was off target.
The missed penalty was another blow to Uni’s confidence, as just two minutes later Met doubled their lead in a similar fashion to the first try. A Met line out was followed by swift hands again to the opposite wing. Full back Alesandro Ricci added the finishing touches to a fine move, and Uni were already in trouble.
Uni were finding decent positions, but couldn’t make the most of any situations they created. In the 18th minute James Conville broke through the Met defence, but his pass to the left found no one and went straight out of play.
Seven minutes later and Uni’s gathering momentum finally paid off. Alex Beaumont broke through the Met defence, lifting the crowd to their feet in the process. From the next ruck Met conceded a penalty just to the left of the post, which Jak Gaff converted to put points on the board for Uni.
The rest of the first half was a war of attrition between the two sides, but it was Met who continued to prove they had the cutting edge. Met captain Will Cargill added three more points in the 31st minute, when he was perfectly teed up for a drop goal right in front of the posts.
With a 13-3 half time deficit, Uni would have fancied their chances in the second half. However, on the stroke of half time, man of the match Martie again used his pace on the left wing to get past the Uni defence and set up his centre Luke Peters to touchdown underneath the posts. Cargill added the extra points, and Met found themselves with a 20-3 half time lead.
Buoyed by the half time Kiss Cam, the Uni fans were still in fine voice willing their team on in the second half, but Met picked up where they left off – replacement Josh Longston added five more points early on after breaking through the Uni defence with ease. At 25-3, there looked to be no way back for Uni.
The rest of the second half was an even contest though. Uni’s effort could not be faulted, particularly in their excellent kick and chase game – the side notably bundled Ricci into touch in the 51st minute.
But there still seemed to be no way through the Met defence for Uni. Coach Hugh Gumbs brought on a series of replacements to change the game before the 70 minute mark, and these had a great effect. As did another important factor.
In the 72nd minute, the heavens opened.
Maybe the rain triggered the memories of last year’s soggy Uni victory, as Tom Baines scored under the tackle of Lewis Jones. Suddenly the ‘UNAY’ fans began to believe again.
The rain came to a sudden holt, but Uni continued to dominate the rest of the match as they pushed for the comeback that their supporters craved.
Uni’s late pressure seemed to come too late as the clock struck 80 minutes, yet the boys in green refused to give up. After numerous phases were held on the Met line, Sam Brady’s frustration became too much as he was sin binned for a professional foul, leaving Met a man light.
Uni’s resulting penalty was taken quickly, but the side lost the ball and Met gained a scrum. Still though, Uni would not give up, as Jonny Michael put in a huge tackle on Jarad Williams who lost the ball. Clarke-Fortune pounced on the ball at the try line, and Uni were back in with the most unlikely of shouts, aided by a conversion from Michael.
Ultimately though, it was too late for Uni, as Met captain Will Cargill hoofed the ball into touch to end the game at the earliest opportunity. But for keeping the sizeable crowd entertained to the end, and for their never-say-die attitude, Uni can hold their heads high.
Image courtesy of Jack Scales