Image Credit: [Robbie Cairns]
Despite many knowing before kick-off that the University of Leeds had secured their first ever Varsity win, the atmosphere was no less electric than in years past. With the rugby union finale almost being its own event, a combined crowd of over 10,000 packed the Headingley stadium.
Not only did thousands of local fans turn up to cheer on the men in green, but many rugby superstars also sent their own messages of support including World Cup winner Will Greenwood, England players Maro Itoje and Ben Youngs, and Australian International James O’Conner. The funniest message came from our very own University of Leeds alumnus, England and Saracens player Alex Lozowski, before cameos from team mates Billy Vunipola and Alex Goode. Even Alan Shearer had something to say about the big Varsity match.
Beckett kicked off but gave away an early penalty with a high tackle on Leeds centre Tommy Ferguson, a stand out player from last year’s encounter. He looked to continue that form by breaking through some early tackles, but as the game went on it became apparent that Beckett were determined to stop any impact he could make. Both teams looked uneasy in the opening ten minutes with many errors leading to frequent changes of possession. However, Beckett overcame their nerves first, capping off a good passage of play with a try from second row John Okafor and a successful conversion from captain Connor Lloyd. More errors from Leeds gifted Beckett easy possession which eventually resulted in Charlie Venables crossing over in the corner, which Lloyd failed to convert, making the score 12-0 after 16 minutes.
A good period for Leeds’ defence followed for the next 15 minutes, only allowing three points via a penalty kick. However, errors still plagued the Gryphons in attack, particularly when it came to lineouts, often gifting the ball back to the opposition. This would come back to haunt Uni as a misfiring lineout in the Beckett 22 led to Toby Francis scoring and captain Lloyd converting again to make it 22-0. Leeds broke the drought by capitalising on a mistake by the Beckett scrum in their own 22, with Andy Brown finishing in the corner, but failing to convert.
The first half ended 22-5 to Beckett, but with the Gryphons having scored and Beckett having a try disallowed at the end of the half, the momentum looked to be in our favour. Unfortunately, Beckett did not allow us to regain any foothold in the match with a well worked try out wide; stretching the Leeds defence and finished by fullback Venables for his second of the night, pulling ahead 27-5.
Beckett did not let up after this with replacements coming on for both sides. The Gryphons tried getting more creative with chip kicks and grubbers, but unfortunately with no end result. However, the opposition substitutes made a bigger impact with another three Beckett tries, one from flyhalf Steffan James and the other two from substitutes Kieran Davies and Johnny Keh. The last score of the game was a penalty try awarded to Beckett alongside a Leeds player being sent to the sin bin, which was the result of culminative scrum penalties from a tired Leeds pack.
The game ended with 51-5 to Beckett, undeniably deserving victors of this year’s finale. Hopefully the Gryphons can bounce back with a strong start to their upcoming BUCS campaign.
By Ryan Wan