The Varsity finale ended in utter disappointment for the University of Leeds as the rugby union 1sts were cruelly undone at the death of a pulsating game.
With it having been revealed that Leeds Beckett had already won the overall Varsity contest due to Wednesday’s other results, Uni were playing for the pride of themselves and the thousands of supporters cheering them on from the stands. Nevertheless, with approximately 13,000 spectators in attendance at Headingley producing arguably the most ferocious atmosphere ever seen at a Leeds Varsity event, the players were left in no doubt about the extent of this great occasion.
Beckett took an early stranglehold of the game and the strength of their forwards was evident after dominating a series of scrums and mauls. They were soon in front when Josh Longson managed to squeeze the ball over the line following a penalty needlessly conceded by Uni. Will Cargill added the extras to make it 7-0 to Beckett; exactly the start Uni didn’t want or need.
Uni improved momentarily after their initial set back and were soon on the score sheet themselves. Fly-half Jamie Guy got his first three points of the evening as Uni profited from a penalty. However, Beckett continued to dominate set pieces and Uni were lucky to escape further punishment on two occasions. Had it not been for selfish play by a Beckett winger and Cargill letting the crowd get to him in front of the posts, Uni could have been in serious trouble before half-time. Beckett’s pressure finally told however and Luke Paynter scored a try after a cleverly worked short lineout. Cargill missed another kick but was on hand to convert Josh Longson’s second try of the night after yet another Beckett dominated maul.
Beckett were seemingly in control of the game and at 19-3 it started to look like it could be a long night for Uni. The Gryphons were not ready to lie down however and the score line seemed to kick the boys into gear. Ollie Roberts made a good block after kick-off and after a half of being dominated in lineouts, mauls and scrums, the tables had turned and Uni were exerting some real pressure. Club captain Louis Timpany went over for Uni’s first try of the night and Guy made no mistake with the conversion; Uni were unmistakably back in the game with the score 19-10 to Beckett.
Uni continued to pile the pressure on Beckett as the game headed towards the interval. Jake Buckland was battling well and scrum-half Lewis Hall was starting attack after attack with his good distribution. The Gryphons soon had the ball over the line once again, but a Beckett player managed to hold the ball up well to prevent the five points. Jamie Guy’s impeccable kicking was among the highlights of Uni’s first half and he soon added a well-worked drop goal to put his side within six points of Beckett’s lead. Beckett were clearly rocked by the spell of Uni pressure and the Gryphons could have been forgiven for wishing that half-time didn’t arrive. Uni went into the break 19-13 down but their opposition knew that they now had a real game on their hands.
The second half was set up to be a truly fascinating encounter. Indeed, the game continued at a blistering tempo, but with both teams eager to gain the upper hand the match became fairly scrappy and open. It wasn’t long before Uni capitalised on a penalty conceded by Beckett. Jamie Guy’s superb kicking was on show again and after making up great ground, the Gryphons forced a mistake. Ollie Roberts showed great initiative to take a quick tap and go over. Guy once again made no mistake from the conversion to give Uni the lead for the first time.
Uni were now firmly in the ascendency and their previous frailties in set pieces were starting to look like a distant memory. Alex Miers was making some great tackles and Ben Gothorp made a great run through several Beckett players but just couldn’t quite pull off the offload. Uni’s lead was soon extended to 23-19 by an outstanding penalty kick from Guy which had looked almost out of range. Despite their advantage, Uni weren’t comfortably ahead and the contest remained relatively even. Beckett soon regained the lead after two Will Cargill penalties punished Gryphons’ ill-discipline. Both sides enjoyed possession before Guy released Tom Moncur who made some excellent ground before Luke Harris scored a try under the posts to put Uni back in front. Guy converted to stretch the lead to 30-25.
With not long remaining, Beckett came straight back at Uni and some last ditch defending was required to keep them at bay. However, they did eventually score; Courtney Raymond went over before Will Cargill added the conversion. Beckett were now 32-30 ahead with only minutes to spare. Uni had no option but to go for it. Unfortunately, by throwing players forward, holes appeared in the Gryphons’ defence and Keane Naylor and Alessandro Ricci capitalised with breakaway tries that meant the full-time scoreline of 46-30 truly flattered the victors.
Uni can hold their heads high after producing a dogged and determined display. In the end, the strength of the Beckett forwards coupled with the the Gryphons’ ill discipline probably cost them the game but it really could have gone either way. The match was a great spectacle and a great way to end Varsity 2014.