Last Wednesday, the University of Manchester Rugby League 1st team faced York St. John 1st XIII in the last 16 of the BUCS Rugby League 2013-14 Northern Conference Cup.
The game was played in extremely difficult conditions, most notably the horrific winds, and unfortunately Manchester narrowly lost eight points to four.
Kick-off spelt what was to come. The ball just about reached a distance of ten metres for what would normally travel four times as far; the strong winds were clearly going to have an impact on this game.
That was confirmed in the opening moments with both sides making handling errors, the emergence of which seemed to make the game a lot tighter. Often simple passes would end up a metre behind the intended target. This made exploiting the pace of wingers particularly difficult and the game became more of a forward’s battle with each team fighting for extra yards.
Nine minutes in and the game had its first try. York mounted an attack from inside Manchester’s half, successfully working down the left flank. The York forward did well to keep himself in play and power his way over the line for a lead of four points
York went on to dominate the reaminder of the opening period, containing Manchester in their own half.
When Manchester looked like they were about to ease the pressure by launching an attack just inside York’s half, they were dealt a penalty for crossing. The resultant York attack was neutralised by the stern Manchester defence, forcing a kick after their fifth tackle, yet Manchester knocked on almost immediately to give York on Manchester’s 30-yard line.
Again the York attack brought power. York’s towering forward made a blistering run through the heart of Manchester defence, knocking over man-after-man until he bounded over the try line to increase York’s lead to eight after 32 minutes of play.
The match looked as if it could be getting away from Manchester, however, the home side’s players seemed to have different ideas, responding instantaneously.
The resultant kickoff pegged York back in there own half. Good defence allowed Manchester to reclaim possession inside York territory. After a series of unsuccessful attempts to breakthrough the York defensive line, Paddy Allen played a delightful cross field kick from left to right to use full advantage of the wind. The hapless York winger never looked like claiming the ball allowing Jack Crowder through to claim the ball and cross for a try in the right hand corner. At halftime the score stood at eight points to four; unsurprisingly no kick for goal had been successful.
The second half started in similar fashion to the first, with York dominating early proceedings, making Manchester play most of their rugby from deep inside their own half.
Manchester had excelled all game in defence, they should have arguably been trailing by more points. In particular, Nathan Scott stood out for registering some huge hits, knocking defenders back in spectacular fashion, whilst always being the first to chase down kicks. It was Manchester’s attacking display that was a cause of concern for the Coaches on the touchline.
Nevertheless, 15 minutes into the second half, Manchester woke up and began to control the game. Starting out from their own try line, Manchester drove all the way to within 15-yards of York’s try line. Some superb offloads and a formidable run from Jack Lynch seemed to ignite Manchester’s attack.
For the rest of the game, Manchester harboured a certain desire to outdo their York St. John counterparts, something of which had been lacking in the first half. Again and again Manchester came knocking on York’s door only to just be denied, often at their own fault due to handling errors.
With no score in the second half, and a momentary lull in which the game went back and forth in the midfield, the match experienced an amusing interlude. Both team’s substitutes took part in their own battle. A shouting match of “woo” after every tackle or attacking knock down which managed to keep both teams entertained for a while until the last few moments of the game.
With two minutes to go York were pegged back deep into their own territory, Manchester had their final chance of the game. Initially attacking right, Manchester was able to suck York’s defenders in, which enabled Manchester to quickly distribute the ball left. Nathan Scott found himself on the wing with a bit of space and seemed to have beaten his man, but defensive support came and brought Scott down.
In a last ditch effort, Manchester attempted to chip and chase but a tackle meant that Manchester ended up knocking the ball on. It proved to be the final play of the game, the match finishing eight-four to York.
Captain Chris Bates (who was unable to play due to injury) singled out Jack Lynch as Manchester’s man of the match. “He led from the front all game in a weakened pack.”
The result means that Manchester are knocked out of the Northern Conference Cup; however, they are still undefeated in the BUCS Rugby League Northern 2A Division with five wins from five, and will look to bounce back from this unfortunate defeat with a win against UCLAN.