Following their emphatic win over Exeter University, Loughborough made the trip to the hallowed turf to take on Leeds Beckett in the final round of the Championship. The African violet clan hadn’t made it to the final on this Championship since 2010, with their involvement in the National leagues taking precedence, their BUCs side became almost a second team and so to even get to that point in the competition was a great achievement.
Loughborough had a troubled start, their opposition gaining a penalty from the kick off and immediately take the opportunity to go for points. Captain Will Cargill lined up for the sticks but left it just short, keeping the score at 0-0. Leeds Beckett sustained their attack on Loughborough even after this failure to collect points, however, keeping the pressure on until their no.8 Daniel Grange slipped through a gap and crossed the line. Cargill set up for the conversion but had it charged down by Yiannis Loizias. Leeds, however, had taken the first blood and set the score to 0-5.
Loughborough, discontented with Leeds’ score, began an attack of their own. Through some clever play they gained penalties and metres, edging ever nearer their opposition try line. Eventually two penalties came within Captain Tom James’ kicking range in close succession. The first, like Cargill’s first, fell just short but the second split the uprights, and got Loughborough off the mark, the score 3-5.
Leeds attempted to further their lead, pushing Loughborough’s defence; this, however, was short lived. Just seconds after coming on as a substitution, Harry Elrington crossed the whitewash. James added the extras to take Loughborough into the lead 10-5. Leeds tried to keep their attack strong but Loughborough dominated and gained another kickable penalty. James’s nudge was on the mark and Loughborough’s lead grew, the score now 13-5. Some lovely team play saw Loughborough gain another kickable penalty almost instantly, James, again, sent the ball through the posts and the score board up to 16-5.
An impressive period of play mounted for Leeds, they chipped away at Loughborough’s defence until they got into the 22. With the clock run down and half time imminent, Leeds wanted to close the gap before the half time whistle was blown but sloppy hands saw Loughborough turn over the ball. Rather than send it into the stands, however, scrum-half James saw an opportunity and took it. He whipped the ball out to Sam Pointon who, with acres of space on the wing, made a huge run before handing off to Yiannis Loizias who still had a lot of work to do before he could dot down. Loizias made the run, however, successfully avoiding Leeds’ last man. James sent the conversion through the uprights and ended the half with the score line set at 23-5 to Loughborough. Going into the half time break it was more than obvious which team was on top.
Leeds returned to the pitch with more fervour than before but in the end it was Loughborough’s mistakes that cost them the match. The immediate pressure from their opposition alongside a few handling errors saw Leeds Beckett make it into Loughborough’s 22 and gain the put in at a scrum. A huge shove from them saw Loughborough’s pack pushed backwards, the ball was quickly passed out to their winger Alessandro Ricci who zipped around the side and dotted down. Cargill quickly converted to take the score to 23-12.
The game then started to move into Leeds’ favour. A string of mistakes led to series of penalties against Loughborough which saw Leeds gain some good possession and eventually a line out within Loughborough’s five-metre line. The resulting maul pushed Loughborough’s defence back over their own try line, leaving Leeds’ Josh Longston to dot down. This time Cargill couldn’t add the extras, the score only moving to 23-17.
Buoyed by their score, Leeds took to attacking again. Loughborough put in some good defensive play, however, turning the ball over and pushing their opposition defence. A long ranging pass out wide was their downfall though, it was intercepted by Leeds who made a strong run but the fast feet of Sam Barnes forced them to kick for touch. Loughborough, however, couldn’t get back on top and it was not long before Leeds had a scrum inside their 22 again. Leeds pushed back Loughborough’s pack and their no. 8 Grange fumbled to ground the ball on Loughborough’s try line under the pressure applied by James. The referee went to the TMO and awarded a penalty try, deigning that James’ defensive skills were illegal and that without them Grange would have scored. Cargill added the extras and Leeds regained their lead, the score now 23-24.
With just 10 mins remaining, Loughborough’s chance was not gone yet but, again, errors in their play cost them dearly and Leeds took every chance they could to capitalise on their opponents’ mistakes. Just minutes later, Leeds’ Cargill is lining up for another shot at goal. This time captain from Leeds could not find the target, leaving the score with just the one point difference. Loughborough regroup after this miss and a huge run from Loizias saw them break through the seemingly unbreakable Leeds line. Leeds scramble back in their defence, however, and a huge tackle in Loizias forces him to lose the ball forwards. The resulting penalty is sent back towards the Loughborough line by Cargill and the following lineout is collected by Leeds. After a short drive the ball is brought out by Sam Brady who follows through on his attack, crossing Loughborough’s whitewash. Cargill adds the extras and the score moves to its final resting place at 23-31. A few more phases of play ensue with a strong attempt at an attack from Loughborough but it all come too late and after Leeds manage to regain possession the ball was booted into the stands to the cheers of Leeds’ travelling fans.
Head coach Cieran Beattie had a few words for us after the final whistle:
“First of all congratulations to Leeds Beckett, they won the North league, we came second and we were second best tonight. I certainly wouldn’t have foreseen that result at half time. I knew they could come back into it, I have a lot respect for them for that. We’ve got to look at ourselves and how we played in that second half and think that that wasn’t good enough. The good thing about this though is that we’ll learn from this, we’ve got a lot of returners and I’m already looking forward to next season.
I’m immensely proud. I’m always proud to wear the Loughborough jersey and the Loughborough badge and it’s great to wear that here. I’ve never won here, I’ve never won at Twickenham, habit of a lifetime unfortunately, maybe I’m the jinx! But saying that we might right a few wrongs next year. It’s going to be hard work but I’m already looking forward to it.”
Despite the heartbreaking result, captain Tom James also took a minute out to give us his thoughts:
“We had a really good first half, we played to our plan and structure. When we went in at half time we knew we’d had a really good 40 minutes and had put points on the board and we came out after the break and our discipline just wasn’t there, we were pinned back in our own half and they managed to keep the scoreboard ticking over which we didn’t do.
“It was an absolute honour to lead that team out. It’s a massively gutting result but its an occasion that’s going to stick with me. I’m really proud of the lads on the way they played. It’s been a really good occasion for us.”
Elizabeth Tyler, Sports Editor