Alcuin confounded every assumption that had been made about College Rugby last Saturday by beating an eminent James college side in the final of a thrilling tens tournament. Giles Raymond’s side capped an exhilarating day of rugby with a hard fought 15 – 5 victory against a team that were, having not been beaten since October 2008, expected to claim the title.
With Alcuin and James having both played the most attractive rugby in the competition and, despite stern tests from Derwent and Halifax, proving themselves as the best teams on the 22 Acres, the stage was set for an intriguing final. It was Alcuin who put on the early pressure and James did not react well. Their slow start would cost them as Brad Voight took advantage of an overlap for Alcuin to run in their first try. Paul Guest kicked the conversion to send the underdogs into a 7-0 lead. James shook themselves into action narrowing the scores with a superb team try which involved Alex Muntus and Aaron Rolph before Oli Woodward went over in the corner.
They did not remain level for long as Alcuin produced a stunning move, and by far and away the best try of the tournament, at the perfect time. Guest was again involved in a damaging break through the James line from deep before offloading skilfully to Ben Howes. The Alcuin player still had around 30 metres and three James players between him and the try line but measured a perfect kick over them which bounced tantilisingly toward the corner. Then, racing headlong toward it, he beat the James defenders for sheer athleticism before diving full length to slam the ball down and assure his side victory.
Paul Guest then added the finishing touches to a magnificent performance, sidestepping two players to touch down in the far corner. Tempers frayed towards the end as Alcuin were accused of time wasting but overall the sides showed each other a laudable degree of respect.
The day opened with impressive victories for Halifax, who were to finish third after a play off with Derwent, and Alcuin as they beat Langwith and Goodricke respectively. The eventual champions played with attacking intent from the opening match, thrashing Group Two’s basement side 50-0. They were to repeat the trick in their later encounter with Wentworth, racking up a 53-0 winning margin on that occasion, ensuring they would hold top spot in their group and meaning would have to wait until the final to meet James.
Ollie Woodward, of James, outpaces the Derwent defence in the Tens Tournament semi-final. Photograph by Justyn Hardcastle.
The reigning Emperor College league champions, fresh from a victory over the University Thirds just a week ago, made light work of the opposition in their group accumulating exactly 100 points in the course of their three matches. They had a slight scare when falling behind to a determined Langwith side but fought back to win 29-14.
As the competition progressed the widely held view that the tournament was James’ to lose showed no signs of diminishing. Despite their formidable talents they faced a Derwent side in the semi-finals intent on ending their long established dominance. For 17 minutes of the contest it looked like Joe Rankin’s team would do just that, playing with a fearlessness and intensity unmatched in any other game. They took a deserved lead through Jamie Criswell following a dogged succesion of phases. The try followed a long period of Derwent pressure in which Sean Glass was held up on the line and Freddy Harris went close to scoring with a lethal break.
Derwent took their slender lead in at the break leaving James Captain Aaron Rolph needing to urge his side on to an improved second half. For much of the latter period it looked as though such a performance wouldn’t materialise; Derwent looked comfortable and could have had another try after an excellent run by the consistently hard working Tolga Necar.
Eventually though, as limbs and minds tired, James’ class showed. Oli Woodward levelled the scores with three minutes to by exploiting gaping holes in a weary opposition defense leaving Huw Harrow an easy conversion to put James up 7-5. Captain Aaron Rolph went on to break Derwent’s continued resistance in the dying moments, finishing off a flowing move to seal a 14-5 victory and put his side in the final with Alcuin.
Alcuin Captain Giles Raymond was delighted with the way his team played throughout the afternoon and praised the opposition: “James are such a good team and this means so much to us to win. Last year’s defeat was definitely on our mind.” Raymond also made reference to the gruelling one day schedule: “Most of the squad are carrying injuries but we aren’t thinking of them right now. I just can’t say how happy I am right now.”