After a painfully close semi-final, the still unbeaten BUCS 1s head to the finals at Rugby’s promise land, Twickenham. They narrowly beat Hartpury, winning by a single point, 15-14 in their closest game of the season so far.
Another BUCS Wednesday night match was kicked off by the visiting opponents. A crimson clad Hartpury RFC got us started. Their attacking line was not quick enough off the mark and heavy pressure from the home side, playing in white, led to a very early try by Loughborough’s Sam Pointon. Ryan Redman converted successfully to take the score to 7-0 within the first few minutes.
Despite having a considerable share of the possession, Hartpury’s passes weren’t fruitful and Loughborough soon found themselves back on the 22. Brandon Mandivenga took a run at the whitewash but was powered down. It would be a huge solo run from Dan Watt at the five minute mark that earned Loughborough their second try. Unfortunately Redman’s conversion slammed square into the right post and bounced wide leaving the score at 12-0.
Loughborough’s dozen point lead didn’t last long as Hartpury had finally found their feet. Geared up from the last try, they retorted back with a swift penalty kick that they took quickly and sent the ball through, making their first dent on the scoreboard, 12-3.
Hartpury kept up the pace and worked the Loughborough defence who ricocheted the ball across the field. However the crimson side were unyielding in their drive to the whitewash and despite Mandivenga halting them briefly outside the 22 with a bullish tackle, they sent a rolling maul over the line. The try went unconverted but they edge the score closer, 12-8.
With both sides raring and equality matched it was a blow to the home side when Matt Edwards got yellow carded and Loughborough went down to 14 men in the closing minutes of half time. A proceeding Hartpury penalty gave them another opportunity to add to their tally. The kick went through and the score moved to an ominous 12-11.
Dan Watt kicked off the second half with noticeably less buoyant Loughborough and Hartpury sides. Attempting to put some real distance back between them, a penalty to Loughborough found Redman line the ball up but unfortunately he send it wide. Hartpury didn’t make the same mistake, they responded by sending it through to take the lead for the first time in the game, 12-14. Hartpury were awarded another penalty but the pressure of the game must have taken affect as the kick went vastly wide. This would ultimately be a fatal boot for them.
In the final three minutes of this semi-final match it was Josh Sharp who stepped up and delivered a clean penalty kick. As the ball jolted through clear, it was the home crowd that roared in relief as the scoreboard illuminated 15-14.
With everyone on the edge of their seats, the referee awarded Hartpury another penalty. A kick through would have given them the win – however they send it wide again, extinguishing all chances of clinching a win. Loughborough held on another minute and as the full time whistle blew the spectators erupted into cheers of jubilation! Loughborough have made it through to the finals again.
Coach George Chuter gave his thoughts were on the outcome of the match;
“Well it was a hell of a game, Hartpury are a very good team and have proved that all year and we knew we had to be somewhere near our best to win it.
“As it happens they were probably the better team over 80 minutes in all honesty. But our commitment to defence was fantastic, absolutely brilliant job of chopping them down. They never really looked like scoring despite having quite a bit of possession and quite a bit of territory, but it was our defensive effort that really stood out.
“It shows a lot of mental character, a lot of toughness by the guys. It was a real arm-wrestle, a real stalemate against a big physical team and fair play to our lads who really held out and a great kick at the end there by Josh Sharp to pinch it. I suppose Hartpury will feel a bit hard done by but that’s sport at times.”
Despite it being a tough semi’s match Chuter remains optimistic about the finals where Loughborough face Exeter:
“It should be a good game. We obviously won them away in the semi-finals last year so they’ll have a bit of revenge on their minds. Again they’re a good team, a really good rugby university, so it’s a really big battle again.
“They’re probably going to be just as big a test as here tonight. Then you’ve got to throw in the added pressure of dealing with playing at Twickenham for the final. So it’s a big occasion, we were lucky enough to be there last year. We didn’t really give ourselves a good account in all honesty so we’ll be looking to put a few things right.”
Like the rest of the team Coach thinks the side can go all the way. On being asked if they can win it this year,
“Absolutely, yes, I think there’s just a lot of belief. We need to play better. I think we need to be a bit more accurate in certainly what we’re doing up front and the penalty count has to come down quite significantly. But yes, we’ve certainly got the character, we got the players, we’ve got some guys who are really hitting some good form now. So if we can get all that and transfer it onto the field in two weeks time we’ve definitely got a chance of winning.”
In an intense match where they had to attack hard and defend harder the 2nd XV find their road to the finals coming to its climax. See them next in action in two weeks, where Twickenham and glory await.