ALCUIN COLLEGE XV 13 vs. JAMES COLLEGE XV 10
College Rugby Triangular Tournament, Match One – Saturday 29th November 2008
Inter-college rugby made its long-awaited return with Alcuin staving off an unlikely James revival in frosty temperatures and foggy conditions at the Archbishops Holgate School this afternoon. In a match of contrasts, Alcuin nearly paid the price for not capitalising further on a dominant first half performance, as their opponents surged back into contention with two late tries and nearly snatched the points in this opening fixture of a competition which also features Derwent.
Much praise must be accredited to those involved this afternoon for revolutionising the image of college rugby from the shameful, violent battles witnessed last year to an eagerly-contested encounter where sportsmanship and professionalism prevailed. Having overcome a gamut of obstacles before kick-off – including insurance, venue, officials and generating interest in forming the teams themselves – it was wonderful to get down to the serious business of playing, albeit from a delayed start.
Alcuin arrived with an almighty number of players, including no less than 16 forwards, and were naturally favourites given their capability of reshuffling the pack every ten minutes or so. James were blessed with no such roll-on, roll-off luxury and the physicality of the match stretched their resolve during a one-sided opening 40 minutes.
As a kind of epilogue to last year’s confrontations, there were crunching tackles from the outset, especially in the ruck where Alcuin benefitted from a clear weight advantage. James lacked the discipline and organisation necessary to repel the thrusts from the Alcuin backs, a weakness exacerbated by niggly infringements, notably a failure to retreat the full distance after the breakdown. Bradley Voigt was ruthless in punishing these errors, kicking Alcuin into an early 6-0 lead with a brace of penalties.
As though startled by the challenge they faced, James struggled to maintain any passing rhythm; fly half Alex Muntus tending to over-elaborate rather than select the obvious kicking option. Their cause wasn’t helped by the early retirement of Stuart Palmer from Prop with a groin strain incurred in one of many collapsing scrums. Alcuin, by contrast, were neat and tidy in possession, frequently spreading the play to the wide areas, kicking when appropriate and muscling into the obvious Jamesian strength, the line-out.
The breakthrough became an inevitability and it duly arrived after 20 minutes, although not from the expected source – Alcuin granted a penalty try for another sequence of infringements from the James defence, which was converted by the flawless Voigt for a daunting 13-0 advantage. Indeed, it was 25 minutes before James retained any ball inside their opponent’s half and they were fortunate to reach the interval with the score under 20 points.
Whatever Churchillian rhetoric was uttered by skipper Seb Weir at the break, James emerged refreshed and with renewed confidence. Inspired by some earlier heroic defensive work, which had kept the score respectable, they diligently set about seeking a path back into the game. With the irrepressible Will Maxwell a driving force, James genuinely began to assert themselves and early raids into Alcuin territory set the tone.
Unfortunately, their moment arrived too late to divert the course of the game. There was less than 20 minutes left on the clock when Maxwell bounced through a cluster of bodies to bring James back within range, a fair reward for a sustained passage of black-shirted pressure as the pendulum swung away from Alcuin. Crucially, the conversion was skewed wide from Weir.
Moments later, Rob Hanley blitzed through down the left touchline, only to be denied by a crunching late challenge at the corner flag. Tails up, James continued to probe, only to be denied by some no-nonsense defending. They would score again, but with only two minutes remaining, it was too little, too late. Ben Forward took the initiative and stormed home down the left flank, though the hurried conversion attempt fizzled short and that was that.
And so, the huddled band of spectators and WAGs, joined by the muddied and bloodied players, retired happily into the grey murk or to the adjacent Black Bull pub, college rugby had made its glorious revival. Long may it continue.