The Varsity event was another successful evening for the University of Manchester’s rugby union teams. The Ladies recorded a spectacular 55-5 victory over Didsbury Ladies, while the Men’s team came through a tough match to beat the University of Sheffield 18-17.
The Ladies got the event off to a flyer, scoring four tries in just over 20 minutes, with Miguela Kerins and Georgina Palmer scoring once, and fullback Selena Lockyer scoring twice. Never looking like slowing down, the team ran in a further three tries before half-time. Palmer added to her tally, running down the wing to score. Emma Procter and Olivia Ball also got in on the action, Procter with a powerful run and finish and Ball completing a lovely backs move with a score. This resulted in the handsome half-time scoreline of 43-0.
The second half begin in similar fashion to the first, with Lisa Neumann handing off several players to score Manchester’s 8th try. However, the free scoring that characterised the first half did not carry over to the second and, for this, credit must be given to Didsbury Ladies for showing pride and competing, despite the score line being out of reach.
For a ten-minute period mid-second half, it was all Didsbury, stealing several line-outs and gradually building momentum through some Mancunian discipline. Towards 60 minutes, Manchester showed great determination to defend their try line, countering several waves of Didsbury pressure. Manchester eventually buckled and Didsbury scored, making the score 50-5 and thus avoiding an embarrassing whitewash.
Provoked by the Didsbury try, Manchester upped their game for the last 10 minutes. Manchester outside centre Olivia Ball put in a thumping tackle on 73 minutes, and finally, following several waves of quality backs play that couldn’t quite be finished off, Selena Lockyear went in at the corner to score Manchester’s 9th try. Ball, again, crossed the gain line, sucking in defenders, leaving space out wide for ball to go through the hands and Lockyear to score.
The match ended 55-5, with Megan Grant-Harris converting 5 of the 9 tries scored. The result was topped off by a celebration in front of the fans, with the team leading them in song. The Men had a lot to do to emulate the Ladies.
Manchester Ladies’ team vs Didsbury Ladies:
15. S Lockyer, 14. G Palmer (Capt), 13. O Ball, 12. M Kerins, 11. L Neumann, 10. M Grant-Harris, 9. O Westmacott; 1. R Haywood, 2. E Procter, 3. Z Childs Ford, 4. S Hodge, 5. G Forbes, 6. C Shilladay, 7. E Alexander, 8. L Muddiman.
Subs used: 16. N Wragg, 17. A Harris, 18. S Floyd, 29. J Pieri
The Men’s game, while lacking the try-scoring, was an equally thrilling affair. The Manchester team were under the cosh from the beginning, Sheffield not fazed by the fervent varsity atmosphere. The away side showed great attacking flair; neat footwork and pace from the Sheffield fullback showed they were here to play. A Sheffield penalty in opposition territory resulted in a kick to the corner rather than an attempt at goal. This ambition was rewarded: the line-out resulted in another penalty, with a subsequent scrum, and on 9 minutes the Sheffield 14 finished a brilliantly-executed backs move in the corner. This took the score to 0-5.
Manchester looked nervy following the try, aware of the capability of the Sheffield team. James Carding converted a penalty in the 18th minute to claw back to 3-5, and yet, the home team found themselves immediately back under pressure again. The Sheffield back 3 were again causing havoc, making several line breaks. On 22, Sheffield scored again, this time utilising the weight advantage in the pack to cross the line with a rolling maul.
With the score at 3-10, and the Varsity crowd almost silent, Manchester had to respond. A Harry Wakefield interception try on 29 minutes was the answer. Wakefield anticipated the Sheffield pass, intercepted it, and showed a clean pair of heels, running nearly 40 metres to score. With score back to 8-10, both the team and the crowd were energised.
For next 10 minutes it was all Manchester, with Jack Smith the scrum-half marshalling his troops to continually get over the gain line. A knock-on close to the Sheffield line denied the home team a second try. The first half finished with the match delicately poised.
The second half began positively, Manchester putting together the phases, getting a rhythm to their game. They were awarded a penalty on the 47th minute, which was crucially missed. Sheffield, whose application and desire couldn’t be praised enough, again chose a deep line-out over a kick at goal. In similar fashion, they were rewarded for their intent, putting together a powerful maul which left the field open for the backs to run in another try. 8-17, Manchester had a mountain to climb.
A quick was response was vital, and this was achieved when Charlie Read, taking on the kicking duties, converted a penalty in the 57th minute to make it 11-17. 10 minutes later, the comeback was completed. Probing play from substitute Hanoba Etomi had resulted in good field position for the home side. A well-executed line out gave the foundation for a strong rolling maul, with Steve Bryne scoring. Read added the extras, making it 18-17 to Manchester.
The final 10 minutes were hectic, Manchester erring on the side of caution, playing conservative, territorial rugby. This was teamed with some heroic rear-guard action, with several penalties being earnt in defence. The team were almost there, and could’ve sealed the victory in the 78th minute had Will Simmonds had the support following a line break. With the tension unbearable, the game going past 4 minutes of overtime, the victory was sealed. Hysteria ensued. The traditional pitch invasion was that extra bit sweeter following such a match.
Praise must go to Sheffield for showing such intent on an occasion when it would’ve been easy to submit. However, the ultimate praise must go to the home team for coming through adversity and recording a truly stunning victory.
Manchester Men’s team vs Sheffield:
15. J Edwards, 14. A Jones, 13. W Simmonds, 12. J Barton, 11. C Read, 10. J Carding, 9. J Smith; 1. H Wakefield, 2. J Mowatt, 3. F Kelly, 4. H Wooles, 5. E Matthews, 6. J Bruns, 7. W Harrison, 8. S Bryne.
Subs Used: Replacements: 16. W Sheridan, 17. A Saleh, 18. W Shephard, 20. Will Carter, 22. H Etomi.
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