Loughborough Students RFC avenged their defeat in last season’s BUCS final, defeating Exeter University 20-11 in front of a sell-out crowd at the Loughborough University stadium.
Cheered on by over 3,000 Freshers, the boys in purple dominated the first half to lead 17-3 at the interval, but were made to weather a seemingly never-ending Exeter storm in the second half, eventually securing the win they richly deserved. A fitting curtain raiser to the new BUCS Super Rugby’ league, which pits the best eight student teams against each other week in week out, the re-run of last year’s final has set the bar high for the rest of the season.
In their pre-match warm up both teams were looking strong and well drilled with very few dropped balls from the backs and some precise lifting from the forwards. Before the whistle even went, this was always set to be one of the matches of the season, and so it turned out.
Exeter got the game underway, a missed catch from Loughborough seeing the visitors retain possession. Three minutes in saw a Loughborough knock on concede the first scrum of the match and whilst the packs seemed evenly matched at first glance, the men in green won the physical battle and with it a penalty. Exeter, kicked to touch once more and after numerous phases won a third penalty advancing into Loughborough’s 22. Ted Landray lined up the kick for the visitors and it sailed through the posts putting Exeter three to the good.
After some excellent work at the breakdown, Loughborough entered Exeter’s 22 for the first time winning a penalty which was kicked to the corner. A big clearance got Exeter out of trouble but after winning another penalty, Loughborough’s Sam Pointon took a quick tap and go to set up a dangerous attack. An effective low ruck and a quick break and handoff later, Loughborough had their first points of the game, with Pointon going across the line. The kick was converted by Josh Sharp, taking the score to 7-3.
Loughborough managed to retain the ball with some excellent phases of play and brilliant lines run by Jack Stapley and Gair Currie. Exeter kicked to touch from a penalty but the ball was overturned by Theo Vukasinovic and from there a fantastic run from skipper Isaac Miller lead to Loughborough’s second try, run in by Charlie Dockery. Sharp couldn’t convert, so the score stayed at 12-3.
A few minutes after the restart Loughborough won the lineout allowing Yannis Loiziaz to run an incredible, well timed inside line. He drew in Exeter’s Jamie Wilcock before offloading the ball onto Dockery, who ran in his second try of the game. With a missed conversion the score moved to 17-3.
Minutes later Loughborough were back within 10 metres of Exeter’s line after some hard work at the scrum. An excellent run and offload from Vukasinovic to Stapley saw Loughborough close, but with a strong covering defence, the visitors put a stop to the attack. The final play of the half led to a lineout from Loughborough but a knock on from Exeter led to the scrum. Now running past 40 minutes the scrum was reset and finally kicked into touch by Exeter.
Half Time: Loughborough 17-3 Exeter.
Loughborough got the second half underway, and for the first five minutes the play was end to end but with limited quality. Seven minutes in however Exeter kicked to the corner, just five metres out from Loughborough’s try line. Thankfully Charlie Kingham retained the ball at the back of the lineout, but a turn over from Exeter saw a try on the far side of the pitch from replacement Tom Lawday.
Finding themselves back in their own half again, Loughborough tackled the ball and a cracking run down the touch line by Will Edwards saw the team back out of danger. At this point, Exeter seemed to have found some of their fighting spirit which we witnessed at Twickenham six months ago.
For the first 20 minutes of the second half Loughborough spent much of their time on the back foot, pined in their own half, but some strong defence kept the visitors at bay. The game continued to be a cagey affair with a lack of real attacking quality from both sides, Loughborough’s defence remaining difficult to break down, forcing the visiting side to kick from distance.
Loughborough finally made their presence felt in Exeter’s half with a great out-the-back pass from Andrew Boyce, but it was short lived as a penalty was given away. With the clocking ticking over to 75 minutes, Exeter were tiring and gave away two consecutive penalties for holding on. A phenomenal surge of effort from the home side saw them rewarded with a penalty, but the kick fell just short of the posts.
Unable to leave their five metre line largely thanks to an excellent chop tackle by Dockery, Exeter were under real pressure. Finally they conceded a penalty, and with the clock just short of full-time, Will Edwards put it between the posts to give last season’s runners-up a surely unassailable lead at 20-11.
From the restart the ball was kicked straight into touch and as the final whistle blew the Loughborough players and fans rejoiced.
Full time: Loughborough 20-11 Exeter.
Post-match Loughborough captain Isaac Miller commented:
“I’m really chuffed with that. We said before the game that we wanted to get revenge for last year and so that was for everyone who’s been involved the last two years. There are still some bits to work on so we’ll come back stronger, but we’re just looking forward to kicking on with the season now.”
Head Coach Dave Morris added:
“Exeter are a very, very good side and they stressed us and created challenges that we probably don’t normally face, but we made a great start. The BUCS Super Rugby has got the potential to absolutely fly; it’s a great brand of rugby and we’ve now got a format that’s pitching the best sides against each other. It’s going to be great for development and I think it’s something that’s going to really grow over next couple of years.”
Victory in their first game of the BUCS Super League was exactly what Loughborough wanted in front of an expectant home crowd, and with hard work and performances like this their Twickenham prospects look bright.
1.James Lasis 2. Issac Miller (c) 3. George Davis 4. Matt Macpherson 5. Theo Vukasinovic 6. Connor Gracey 7. Andrew Boyce 8. Charlie Kingham 9. Sam Pointon 10. Josh Sharp 11. Jack Stapley 12. Gair Currie 13. Charlie Dockery 14. Yiannis Loizias 15. Will Edwards Replacements: 16. Ollie Adams 17. Ben Christie 18. Joe Cave 19. Daniel Moolman 20. Jack Moates 21. Austin Beckett 22. David Buck