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Loughborough Students Rugby pull off whirlwind victory against Hartpury in BUCS opener

Loughborough Students Rugby Football Club (LSRFC) secured an emphatic 36-15 victory in their opening game of the 2017/18 BUCS Super Rugby competition, beating defending champions and rivals Hartpury RFC in front of a brilliant home crowd.

Taking on Hartpury in the opening round was always going to be a tough ask, with the visitors playing in the Championship on Saturdays, a division above Loughborough. The sense of occasion was heightened further with the game acting as The Big Match, a showcase game held during Fresher’s week.

Loughborough came out of the tunnel raring to go, with the home side advantage and a massive crowd in attendance, their eagerness showed as they put pressure on Hartpury from the first minute. However it was the visitors who drew first blood, as an infringement at the ruck in the third minute saw Hartpury score a penalty kick and go three points ahead.

The flavour for the first half was by no means set, as Hartbury made a series of infringements of their own, dangerously close to their own line and Loughborough were eventually awarded an all-important penalty try. Tom Ffitch converted to give Loughborough the lead.

The score line didn’t change for the next phase of the game, despite Hartpury exhibiting some lighting fast line speed and stellar offloading skills, as they pressed up the field repeatedly. This line speed however was second only to Loughborough’s sensational defensive line, whose press and determination met Hartpury’s attack at every pass of the ball. Forcing knock ons and dropped balls, the resulting penalties kept Hartpury quickly tiring, and at arms reach from the Loughborough try line. 

Loughborough’s forwards then went to work close to the Hartpury line. A strong drive off a Loughborough scrum had Ollie Adams surge forward over the line. The first official try of the game, and a second successful conversion for Tom Ffitch. Ffich then extended the Loughborough lead with a penalty kick at the end of the half, leaving the players to head to the dressing rooms with Loughborough leading 17–3.

Team talks over; the two sides graced the field for the second with Hartpury aiming to fight back in earnest. This notion was quickly dispelled though, when the Loughborough forwards once again went to work; this time to put Jack Moates into the corner. Moates then snatched a second try only seven minutes later, and with the help of a Tom Ffitch conversion made it 29-3 with 28 minutes to play.

Loughborough had by this point established themselves as the dominant side, looking cool and collected in defence, and formidable with the ball in hand. In the 56th minute substitute Oskar Hirsky Douglas found himself on the end of a passing play with two men closing him, but with a mix of strength and agility, he broke the tackle and buried it into the corner. With Ffitch adding the extras once more, the hosts led 36–3 and there was surely no way back for the defending champions.

Hartpury never gave up though, rallying to win a penalty try. In the dying minutes of the game they added to their tally with a score in the corner, this time adding the conversion to close the game at 36–15 to Loughborough.

Post-game, Theo Vukasinovic was deservedly awarded the Phaidon International Man of the Match Award, as despite not scoring himself, Theo embodied the grit and determination shown by the Loughborough pack that won them the game. Aside from being ferocious and unforgiving in the tackle, he was also a serious presence in the breakdowns.

Vukasinovic commented:

It was a really good game and it was a bit of a surprise the points we put on them – the game plan worked and we were able to really enjoy it. We were very effective in the key areas and the boys came together and put in a good performance. We need a similar performance next week now; everyone coming together, doing their jobs and putting in a good shift.

LSRFC are back in action in National One on Saturday, away at Rosslyn Park, before making the journey north to Newcastle next Friday when they’ll look to make it two from two in BUCS Super Rugby as they take on Northumbria University.