JAMES COLLEGE 12
UYRUFC THIRDS 7
Saturday 6th March
When you haven’t tasted defeat in any format of the game for over 15 months, the togetherness and inherent self-belief of your team means few opponents can faze you. James College faced the sternest test of their unbeaten sequence on Saturday afternoon, and passed it with flying colours as tries from Rob Hanley and Huw Harrow gave them a 12-7 victory over the UYRUFC Thirds.
James, the reigning champions of the Emperor League, had been working up to this challenge having routinely dismantled everyone lining up against them on the College Rugby circuit and, when it arrived, didn’t disappoint. Many of those playing in the thirds team would have been familiar faces to James, their paths having crossed many times since the resurrection of College Rugby last year, but facing them as a unit represented a different proposition.
Unsurprisingly, the thirds dominated possession and bombarded the James defensive 22 for sustained periods, letting themselves down only with some rather predictable ‘pick and run’ tactics and unforced handling errors. Yet when James showed their characteristic free-flowing rugby they presented a real threat and, on occasion, scythed through the university side like a knife through butter.
The first try, on 25 minutes, exemplified this: after weathering a monumental spell of thirds pressure, Chris Smith snaffled the ball at the breakdown on half-way, embarking on a dazzling run which took him within sight of the line. He looked around to assess his offload options and found the unlikely figure of Rob Hanley who ran in his first James try from ten yards.
Alex Muntus slotted the extras for a seven-point advantage but the James lead wasn’t especially justified and the thirds drew level on the cusp of half-time. Referee Tom Weir was checking his watch when decent build-up down the right wing resulted in Jordan Abbott crashing over the try line, the extras added to restore parity.
A typically chaotic scene from Saturday’s match as the ball flies into the grasp of Alex Muntus. The James Team President was at the heart of many of his side’s attacks, breaking through on a number of occasions. Photograph by Maggie Aslet.
The game’s decisive moment came ten minutes after the interval and resulted from a definite James strength – the scrum. Harrow retrieved the ball from a scrum five yards out, put on the burners to beat two defenders and, with arms fully outstretched, plonked the ball over the tryline. The kick was blown too far left but James never looked like relinquishing their lead, absorbing the fleeting thirds attacks with relative comfort and typical efficiency to cling on for victory.
Muntus, the Team President, was feeling the physicality of the encounter afterwards, but delighted in his team’s performance. “We seriously stepped it up today,” he said. “We’ve played university standard players most weeks in the College Rugby league, but never together. However, in those games we have been used to spending 20 minute spells without the ball and that was always going to happen today.
“Our belief was at the heart of the win. Our organisation and fitness was fantastic. I’m over the moon.”
Simon Reed, the thirds Captain, was magnanimous in defeat but wasn’t prepared to overlook his own team’s shortcomings: “My general feeling about the game is one of frustration,” he said.
“We knew James were going to be good on the counter and are a good running team, but we made sloppy errors that were our undoing. James are a very good team though, and were very impressive in terms of their organisation and commitment.
“They probably deserved the win, but it’s still hard to take, especially as I feel our performance was lacking in terms of intelligence and the ability to get quick ball after breaks, which I think would have swung the game in our favour.”
James’ ability to compete in the line-out improved with the second-half introduction of Bruce Green, with the ball here. Photograph by Maggie Aslet.
While the thirds team differed in places from the side beaten in Wednesday’s curtailed game against Bradford, James were also missing key personnel. Stuart Palmer and Tom Savage were absent in the prop positions, as was Sam Burgum on the second row. Bruce Green, the Captain and important line-out player, was on the sidelines until the hour mark, while Giles Welford and Rob Donell left the field with injuries.
The first period, which was all one-way traffic, was marred by yet another injury sustained on the 22 Acres. The light yellow and green livery of the North Yorkshire ambulance has become a depressingly familiar sight in recent weeks, and this time it was Niall Walsh who departed in it, having suffered a recurrence of an ankle ligament injury. There were echoes of last Wednesday for his teammates, when Will Peters was hospitalised in the Bradford fixture.
At half-time, with the scores locked, Green reminded his James teammates just how much of an achievement it would be if they claimed the uni scalp and the words were still fresh in the memory when Harrow went over. Moments earlier, Muntus had burst through the thirds’ defensive lines, one of many examples of James’s penetration when they had open space before them. There could have been a third try when Ollie Woodward seared down the left, crossed the whitewash but was held up by a mass of bodies.
The thirds bossed the last 20 minutes, but James were diligent in their defensive duties, albeit with a few hairy moments late on when the two-on-one overlap was available. The university side let themselves down with sloppy handling from time to time and generally lacked the wherewithal to break down a well-drilled James outfit, something emphasised by the post-match comments.
Ben Ivory eyes up the tryline as he attempts to burn past a trio of thirds players during Saturday’s match. Photograph by Maggie Aslet.
“With respect to our opponents, we were better organised today,” said Aaron Rolph, the James full-back. “We needed extra composure because today was undoubtedly a step up in standard.”
Hanley was thrilled with his maiden try, but highlighted the team cohesion which has carried James a long way over the past two years: “They put up a good fight and we needed plenty of spirit to break them down. Today’s result was a reward for the great collaboration and preparation of the last year.”
James Line-up (by position): 1. Rob Hanley, 2. Mike Maloney, 3. Dave Wilcock, 4. Tom Pinney, 5. Gryff Chatwin, 6. Tom Rodliffe 7. Gideon Heugh, 8. Giles Welford, 9. Huw Harrow, 10. Alex Muntus, 11. Oliver Woodward, 12. Tom Prifti, 13. Chris Smith, 14. Ben ivory, 15. Aaron Rolph
Replacements: Rob Donell, Bruce Green
UYRUFC Thirds: 1. Luke Brazier, 2. Rich Draper, 3. Tom Kerswell, 4. Mig Holloway, 5. Steve Quick, 6. Rich Andrews, 7. Ash Alexander, 8. Jordan Abbott, 9. Ben Turner, 10. Matt Robinson, 11. Mike Bloom, 12. Alex Taylor, 13. Simon Reed, 14. Niall Walsh, 15. Josh Andrade
Replacements: 17. Phil Johnson, 18. Thibault, 19. Josh Clarke, 20. Andrew Wallace, 21. Manuel Sarmento