Loughborough rugby union men’s 1sts beat Durham 22-18 in a massive match on Wednesday. Liz Tyler was there for Label Sport.
With the game being tipped as the match of the season and a home quarter-final in the Championship at stake, the players ran out to a tense atmosphere at the 1st XV pitch. Both teams needed the win to get the home advantage in the next round of the tournament, and though both teams had already secured their place in the quarters, there was everything to play for.
Loughborough tried to make a statement from the kick-off with an impressive run from Biyi Alo and some good possession saw Loughborough camped out in Durham’s 22. However, they could not keep the momentum up and when Durham stole the home side’s lineout, Loughborough lost their energy.
Durham's captain Simon Hemesley broke Loughborough’s line and the visitors forced their hosts to concede a series of penalties. Eventually the visitors pushed over in a rolling maul with Sean Robinson putting the ball down and getting the visitors off the mark. The conversion was missed but Durham had the lead – 0-5 to the visitors.
Loughborough tried to come back with a period of strong possession, but again they lost the ball and Durham made the hosts pay for their mistake. Durham’s captain Hemesley crossed the whitewash for the visitors and though the conversion was missed again, Durham were pulling away from their hosts, the score now 0-10.
Both teams picked up the pace from there; Loughborough were desperate not to let Durham in again and Durham were desperate to hold onto their lead. Though both sides worked hard but neither team could break their opponents defence and so the score stayed the same as the game went into its half-time break.
With the teams back on the pitch, the toing and froing began again, but it was the visitors who broke through first. Durham gained a kickable penalty and their fullback did not waste any time in stretch his team’s lead; the score moved to 0-13 and the hosts began to seem nervous.
Loughborough pushed their guests and eventually gained a chance to go for the posts. Chris Surman’s kick was good and the hosts finally had some points on the board – 3-13.
With some points on the board, Loughborough began their attack, and with one of Durham’s locks in the sin bin the home side powered through – George Messum dotting down. The conversion was missed again but the hosts were well and truly back in the game, with the score now 8-13.
Loughborough kept their momentum going, pushing through the Durham line again. George Eastwell’s brilliant run and the forwards efforts at the break down were all commendable but the hosts were denied a score by a knock-on.
Finally, when the home side gained a penalty, they chose to take it quickly and broke through their guests’ defence. Gabriel Carroll pushed over and Surman’s conversion was sound, the score now 13-13. The hosts were now level with their guests and the match was hotting up.
Just minutes after the home side scored, Durham responded with a score of their own and though their conversion was wide, the guests were in front again – 15-18.
Loughborough rallied to get back in the game and after a huge run from Blair Hutchinson, Loughborough soon pushed over for the host’s second. Surman secured the conversion and the hosts lead again 22-18.
With just minutes left on the clock, Durham needed to score again to win and get a home quarter-final. Loughborough needed to hold their defence, but their guests did not make it easy for them. Durham pushed through into Loughborough’s 22 and continued until they were metres from Loughborough’s try line.
An immense show of defensive power came from Loughborough, led by tight-head prop Biyi Alo, and the home side resolved to keep Durham out. Cheers rang out around the pitch as the referee awarded Loughborough a penalty and proceeded to blow the final whistle.
With both teams both physically and emotionally drained and fans on the side with nerves in shatters, the match had definitely lived up to its expectations. Loughborough’s win means they now have a home quarter-final against Exeter, putting them one step closer to the BUCS Championship Final on March 28th at Twickenham. The only question that remains is, will they make it?