Words by Alexander Hennah
The events of Wednesday 31st January 2024 will be forever etched into the minds of the Manchester Metropolitan University Rugby first XV and its fans. MMU avenged their loss in the previous year’s varsity to pull off a convincing 50-8 victory against their rivals from five stops down on the 143, the University of Manchester Rugby first team.
MMU came into the fixture as narrow favourites having won their last two matches including a particularly strong and commanding performance against Northumbria Men’s first. However, UoM, after a series of impressive showings prior to the Christmas break, were certainly not to be counted out.
Prior to the match, both captains – Ollie Powell and Douglas Blood – made it clear that their teams were fired up and keen to lead them to victory, more so as there was an audience watching. With the crowd’s roar distinctly raising the temperature on a cold and abundantly wet Mancunian evening, as MMU kicked off proceedings.
The first ten-minutes saw both teams try to get a feel for one another physically and in the set-piece as nothing could divide either side. With both sets of players committing a high number of unforced errors, largely as a result of the abhorrent weather conditions.
After the ten-minute mark it was MMU that struck first, catching UoM in disarray for Fin Hare to carry the ball over the try line, before a successful conversion by Vice-Captain Tom Walker, a man who had certainly brought his kicking boots for the fixture.
Though chasing the game, UoM never showed signs of giving up, with their resilient defence being led by their loud and physical Vice-Captain Will Green. Unfortunately for the boys in purple, in a mirror of last year’s encounter, UoM went down to fourteen men after tighthead prop Finn Lyttle saw yellow for a dangerous tackle inside the MMU five-metre line.
MMU were not totally comfortable however, with UoM showing glimpses of class, despite being numerically disadvantaged, and a league lower than their local rivals. Perhaps the pick of the first half tries came from the University of Manchester, when a penalty was taken quickly on the MMU five-metre line for the captain, Douglas Blood, to score two phases later after a well-worked effort in the corner. A reward for their tenacity and persistence during the half.
Perhaps the standout performances of the first forty came from two previous UoM second team captains, James Thompson and Patrick Ridley, who continually charged into tackles and ran hard into the MMU defence in a valiant attempt to inspire their teammates.
However, going into the break, MMU were in full control, holding a considerable lead of 24-5. With their strong lineout and scrum process having been on full display throughout the first 40.
Coming out into the second half, UoM knew it was now or never, they had to score first to stay in the battle. But they were unable to shake-off their basic handling errors and penalty count from the first half, and fell even further behind in the fifty second minute.
Campbell Murray tried to rally the team and give the fans hope with his successful penalty kick with twenty minutes to go. But after James Appleton scored for MMU, having capitalised on an interception, the game looked out of reach for UoMRFC.
The contest would go on to end 50-8 to MMU, ensuring that their home form remains on a steady track, having not lost at Platt Lane since last year’s varsity. Moreover, they will now head into the next round of the cup, with increasing desire to win the competition. All much to the delight of their supporters.
Despite the sore and sour nature of the events of the 31st January, UoM can take plenty of positives into their remaining fixtures of the season. The club can look to bounce back, with the second team facing Liverpool 1’s in the cup at 2.30pm, before the 1s play Durham 4s at 5pm at the Armitage Centre on February 7th.
To keep up to date with all the UoM as they enter the home straight of the season, follow their Instagram: @uomrugbyunion