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13th May 2023

Manchester is purple: UoM vs MMU’s first rugby varsity clash in six years doesn’t disappoint

Against the odds UoM pulled off a stunning derby win against rivals MMU. We give a match break down to see just how they did it.
Manchester is purple: UoM vs MMU’s first rugby varsity clash in six years doesn’t disappoint
The UoM Rugby team after their stunning derby victory. Photo: Finlay McBride @ The Mancunion

Last Wednesday saw the University of Manchester’s rugby union first XV beat neighbouring rival Manchester Metropolitan University 40-19 in the first varsity clash in six years. MMU entered the fixture as narrow favourites, boasting an undefeated home record and finishing second in their league. UoM, who play a division below, concluded their season in a respectable third, with notable wins over Northumbria 2s and Durham 3s.

An eerie silence fell over Platt Lane as both teams awaited the referee’s opening whistle. For the next 80 minutes, both sides showcased their skill, strength and durability. Physicality and pace were established from the outset, and it was UoM who drew first blood after an early penalty was converted by fly-half Will Johnson. Johnson would find himself in front of the uprights soon after, slotting another three points following a second cheap giveaway from MMU. It didn’t take long however for the home side to answer back, after twenty minutes Man Met scored the first try of the match following a driving maul off the back of a line out.

Despite conceding, UoM continued to assert their dominance, dictating the game’s tempo and possession. That was up until an explosive line break from MMU’s number 8, who cruised past several defenders to move the polytechnics in front by a two-scores.

UoM fought back however, converting another penalty before a quick sniping dive from scrumhalf Alex Morris to push the away side ahead for the second time. Just before the end of the half, UoM crossed the whitewash once more, Will Johnson demonstrating some individual brilliance, collecting his own kick to touch down underneath the sticks. Heading into the interval, the score was 23-14 to UoM, the visitors surprising the hosts, proving to be more organised and clinical than their opposition.

The game’s racing tempo was undisturbed by the halftime break as Man Met returned to the scoring after only a minute. UoM then went down to fourteen men after tighthead prop Dylan Sayer saw yellow for a high tackle. Whilst MMU’s strengths lay primarily in their forward pack, UoM’s backline continued to demonstrate their superiority, connecting again for their third try. The move started off with a tackle-breaking carry from centre Sam Adu and was later finished in the corner several phases later following a diving effort by winger Alex Evans.

With ten minutes left to play, Man Met’s chance at varsity glory and retention of a perfect home record was slowly disappearing. In spite of a late push, the Blorange came up short, UoM’s win secured by a walk-off try from Alex Morris, who after intercepting a pass, charged over from 60 metres out, raising his arm in victory as he barrelled over the opposition’s try line.

After 80 minutes of attritional rugby, the game ended Manchester Metropolitan 19-40 University of Manchester, a triumphant win for those sporting purple and black.


Post-match smiles Photo: Finlay McBride @ The Mancunion

Man of the match was shared by Club Captain McGarden Crawford and flyhalf Will Johnson. Crawford persistently upset Man Mets attack, imposing his presence on the game line with strong tackling, aggressive carries and constant disruption at the breakdown.

“After a turbulent season, it was great to showcase the best of UoM rugby and I look forward to bigger and better varsity fixtures in the future,” said Crawford post-game.

Will Johnson who led UoM’s offensive, controlled the match from start to end, finishing the day with a try and a perfect conversion rate off the tee, slotting eight from eight in a flawless performance in the number ten jersey. Johnson explained how proud he was of the squad, describing the varsity win as “the perfect way to round off the last few years”.

For those who have been with the university’s rugby club over the past three or four seasons, there was no better way to end their university rugby careers than with a win over a local rival. Wednesday’s victory reflected the potential of men’s rugby at the university and will undoubtedly be used as a platform to build upon heading into the 23/24 season.

Discussing his vision for next year, newly elected Chairman James Thompson told the Mancunion how he hopes last week’s win will help the club progress moving forward, demonstrating “the ability we have, and I can see UMRFC pushing for promotion across all three teams in the new campaign”.

A season which began with setbacks and hardships was concluded by a willingness to improve and the determination to succeed. Men’s rugby union aims to move in a new direction, one which is more inclusive, competitive and ultimately achieving.

To keep up to date with UoM Rugby follow their Instagram: @uomrugbyunion

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