Uni fought valiantly but ultimately came up short against a strong Leeds Beckett side at their Headingley Campus on Wednesday afternoon, in a well-contested rugby union. It is fair to say that the previous results in this event at Varsity have not made for pleasant reading for The Gryphons, although given the disparity in resources and facilities between the two outfits, this is understandable.
The departure of their coach could have been taken really badly by the girls, but they knuckled down and continued to put in the hard graft that had started in pre-season at the very beginning of September. Even so, they knew that the odds were stacked against them. Beckett ply their trade in the Premier North Division, and are the second strongest team in that division behind Loughborough. Last season saw them record crushing wins over the likes of Birmingham, Durham and Newcastle, and so it would be a tough ask for Uni, despite their meticulous preparations for the new season.
True to form, Beckett came out of the traps fast, looking to rack up a big score. They demonstrated why they were one of the best teams in the country, spraying the ball around with confidence, as Uni were pushed onto the back foot, and forced into some last-ditch defensive tackles. Around five minutes in, the favourites reaped the rewards of their territorial dominance, breaking through the thicket of bodies to score the first try. Their power and pace was a potent combination, and led to a second try being scored only five minutes after the first, with the uni girls being punished for any invitation of time and space. If Beckett expected to romp home after this, they were in for a rude awakening. Despite their continued dominance at the breakdown, uni were enjoying their first real sustained spell of possession, and were demonstrating impressive skill and agility with ball in hand. Having fallen victim to another Beckett try, the girls scored one of their own through Tilly Heggie, driving away against fierce resistance, to the delight of the 25 or so fans and players who helped to galvanise and encourage their friends and team-mates.
The first period drew to a close, with Beckett 12 points to the good, but seemingly wary of a spirited riposte from the feisty underdogs in the second half. The physicality that shone through during the build-up to Leeds’ first try was in evidence after the interval, with the team running purposefully and battling ferociously. This positivity allowed us to narrow the gap further with a second try, in no small part due to the quick thinking of Hannah Moreton. Having danced past the Beckett, it seemed a sure bet that she would go over for the five points. However, she elected to kick through for Nicky Dobra, who kept her eyes on the ball before grounding, sparking jubilant celebrations from both players and fans. There was a real sense that Uni could stem the tide of ten successive defeats at Varsity at the hands of their intra-city rivals.
Unfortunately, Beckett responded well in the face of adversity. Despite their opponents enjoying a lot more territory now than at earlier stages in the match, the home side were still gaining a significant number of metres during many of their attacks. Their determination to preserve their 100% record in Varsity matches was perhaps what inspired them to step up their game, with another try leading to the gap being increased back to 12 points. Gaps were starting to appear in uni’s defence, as the herculean rearguard action from the team was beginning to take its toll, and a breakaway try added further gloss to the scoreline as uni were out on their feet. A further try at the death was more than Beckett, and was an unfair reflection of the contest as a whole.
After the match, Dobra and Hannah Carmyllie spoke to The Gryphon. Try-scorer Dobra acknowledged that the coach’s exit had been a slight setback but said that ‘luckily, my housemates all play rugby, so they were happy to be help out, and have been really useful. We have also have good links with the RFU, so they helped us sort out a coach quite quickly.’ Despite admitting that it had been a bit of a scramble, she did point to the fact that they have been in training for a while.
Carmyllie added that ‘it was going to be a difficult match, but we’ve trained so hard in the last couple of weeks, and then we also had three weeks of pre-season, which were really well-organised; we were training every day. We are felt really prepared, and we’ve had so much confidence we haven’t even thought about losing the match, and approached the match very positively.’
If they can take the same mentality into their BUCS season, they will prove a tough proposition for anyone.
Featured image: Alex Bowmer