JAMES COLLEGE 37
VANBRUGH COLLEGE 5
Emperor League – Sunday 7th February
James College sent out a compelling statement of intent to retain their Emperor League title as they overpowered Vanbrugh on Sunday. Their 37-5 victory was based on a four-try blitz during the opening 20 minutes, which floored an opponent cursed with remarkable misfortune.
At times, the touchline resembled a field hospital as Vanbrugh players were carried off suffering from the whole spectrum of leg injuries, decimating their backs and prompting reshuffles at every turn. However, this should not detract from another fine James display – they rose to the physical challenge and countered it with an aesthetically-pleasing brand of rugby which delivered seven tries and a bonus point.
There were numerous individual performance of note in the James ranks – Thomas Rodliffe stood out at hooker – not putting a foot wrong throughout – Huw Harrow provided reliability at scrum half, Oliver Woodward weighed in with two tries and Aaron Rolph adopted a swashbuckling style which delivered a memorable 70-yard try in the second period.
For James, this was the perfect riposte for last term’s unexpected 5-5 draw in the corresponding fixture, a result, played out in dreadful conditions, which nearly cost them the championship.
This fact was not lost on Bruce Green, the James Captain, afterwards: “This was a very big game after last time. We had a point to prove after the draw last term and we played very well. It was physical, but we matched them up front and took our chances.”
Green had improvised the game’s first opening when, moments into the contest, he broke through down the left channel after snatching a line-out. Only some intelligent defence from Vanbrugh turned the ball over and cleared their lines in the nick of time. The skipper was integral to James’ reading of the line-out, as standard, and had encouraged his side to adopt an exciting style of fluid rugby.
It required a momentary lapse of concentration for James to get up and running on five minutes, however. Jordan Abbott, one of Vanbrugh’s handful of University standard players, opted to kick and run on his own five metre line and, having snatched possession, James worked leftwards until Woodward tumbled over in the left corner for the first points of the day.
Moments later, the score was doubled as Harrow waltzed through two tackles to culminate another well-executed James sweep from right to left. At this point, with 15 minutes elapsed, things looked ominous for Vanbrugh who, despite only being ten points in arrears, were suffering the first signs of an injury jinx which would prevent them mounting a serious challenge. Two players had limped off with serious leg injuries and the gulf between the sides was only further enhanced by their absence.
Seizing upon a knock-on spotted by official Rob Donell, James poured forward once more and, after the ball had been traded by many hands on another right-to-left axis, Tom Prifti touched down with at least two other players in a scoring position on the overlap. Unusually, the kicking of fly-half Alex Muntus was proving wayward and none of the first-half scores were converted, giving Vanbrugh a glimmer of hope.
Having absorbed Vanbrugh’s first meaningful attack, James countered with customary speed and precision for a fourth score; Woodward claiming his second try following a flowing move. Despite being 20 points behind, Vanbrugh kept attacking, but their indisputable spirit was regularly dampened by players exiting the stage. They were losing the wrong players at the wrong time and were somewhat inevitably 20-0 down at the break.
James showed no more mercy in the second-half. Having freshened things up with replacements, Alex Prowse, a fresher who has integrated effortlessly into the XV, burrowed over after a powerful team drive to stretch the advantage to 25-0.
Vanbrugh, to their eternal credit, were unwilling to capitulate against mounting odds and their forwards finally earned some reward when Adam Fahie grabbed a try following intense five minutes of intense pressure. Yet, James had more in the tank and roared straight back with the game’s highlight.
Rolph acquired the ball on his own 22 but, unsatisfied with the movement of his teammates about him, decided to embark on a madcap dash for the opposition try line. Unbelievably, he made it, plotting a quicksilver course through half of the Vanbrugh team, aided by a number of missed tackles, to score one of the best tries ever seen in College Rugby. Muntus added the extras and the score stood at 32-5 with 20 minutes left on the stopwatch.
Ten minutes from the end, with the late winter sun finally shining on a dreary York R.I., James rounded things off with a seventh score; Chris Smith beating everyone for pace on the left to finish in the corner. Anything for Vanbrugh by this juncture would have amounted merely to consolation but they attacked throughout the last few minutes and, but for Sergio Black dropping the ball with the tryline within his reach, they might have achieved double figures.
But James, undefeated in any form of the sport since October 2008, just roll on and, with the Demons lying in wait next Sunday, they will fancy their chances of consolidating their familiar berth atop the table. Vanbrugh gave everything but, plagued by injuries at the most inconvenient times, could not replicate their heroic 5-5 draw in these team’s last meeting. However, when they successfully incorporate their UYRUFC representatives and enjoy some better luck with injuries, there is no doubt they could trouble the established elite of College Rugby.
Photographs from today’s match to follow.