The University of Manchester rugby teams came through bruising encounters to achieve victory at the Ernst & Young Varsity Match at Sale FC’s Heywood Road on Wednesday 28th September.
The men’s 1st XV endured a torrid first half against rivals Manchester Metropolitan. Despite taking an early lead with the boot, Manchester’s early momentum did not last. Man Met pack dominated set pieces and started to control the pace of the game, constantly pinning Manchester back, completely starving them of possession. The pre-match underdogs looked increasingly dangerous coming close to crossing the try line on several occasions, with only excellent defensive work keeping them out. Fly half James Sargent eventually brought the scores level after infringements at the breakdown by Manchester’s under pressure pack. Man Met then stormed into the lead after a loose pass in the backline went to ground allowing Richard Broadley to hack forward, the winger’s committed chase was rewarded as a lucky bounce saw him able to gather and crash over the line. Half time was called with the score at 8-3 to Man Met. Manchester looked shell-shocked.
The start of the second half heralded little change as another cheap penalty handed Man Met another penalty opportunity, which they duly took to build on their lead. This seemed to finally bring the Manchester team into life. Aided by the arrival of Martinez, Murray and Cross as replacements, the Manchester pack restored some parity to the forward battle. They began to pressurize the Man Met line and scored soon after with Martinez touching down following an impressive line out and maul, full back Kohler adding the conversion. The try proved to be the turning point in the game. Manchester were now in the ascendancy with the backs finally showing some flair in the form of an intelligent chip by replacement stand-off Oli Lancaster which wasn’t dealt with by the Man Met back three, allowing Kohler to release Liam Nicol to score in the right corner. Kohler failed to add the extras however.
Manchester’s forwards were now on top as the Man Met pack tired, winning constant penalties to drive their team up field, one such penalty was taken quickly just outside the opposition 22 catching Man Met off-guard as scrum half Allison offloaded to the strong running Rob Saltrick to go in under the posts, Kohler converted. With the score at 22-11 the game degenerated into a scrappy affair until Manchester produced a moment of magic to finish with Kohler scoring in the corner after more good work from Lancaster saw Manchester get behind the Man Met defensive line. The successful conversion marked the end of what was a gritty comeback in a game where the 29-11 score line was not entirely reflective of the performances of the two sides.
The women’s game earlier in the day against The University of Salford was a relatively one- sided affair with Manchester dominating from the off. Strong running and offloading from the tackle helped Manchester take a 26-0 lead into the end of the first third, notable contributions came from the front row who had the beating of their opposition from the off at the scrum. In the backs meanwhile, centre Suzanne Broadhurst marked an excellent display with an excellent solo try from deep inside her own half. The half back pairing of Claire Knapp and Harriet Smith also had excellent games, with constant forays into Salford territory.
Credit however must go to Salford who agreed to the game at very short notice. Despite being comfortably beaten, they never gave up. Their impressive full back Susan Bagnall proved to be a constant thorn in Manchester’s side with some storming runs which saw her complete a magnificent hat trick, nevertheless Manchester continued to run riot scoring a further 31 points to win the match 57-19.
Both games provided great entertainment for the large crowd that watched from the stands. While the Ladies were clearly happy with their display, the men’s team despite victory has much work to do in the pack, although they will take heart from their recovery in the 2nd half. The backs, starved of ball for so much of the match, finally started to look like the destructive force they can be in the games latter stages.
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