Loughborough 2nds 24, Nottingham 1sts 30.
A superb display from stand-off Mike Butcher, coupled with a colossal display from Nottingham’s pack, saw the green and whites win their inaugural league game away at Loughborough on the back of two pre-season wins against Trent and Oxford Brookes.
The early signs however were not ones of optimism for Nottingham. The late withdrawal of Alex Barretta from the squad with a sprained ankle left Nottingham with only sixteen players. The match began with a terrible fielding of the kick-off, which was compounded only a minute later by the withdrawal of Josh Skeens due to concussion after a brutal collision with his opposite number, who had already been upping his painkiller dosage for bruised ribs. In turn, within a minute of Skeens’ withdrawal, Loughborough had 4-0 up after bagging the game’s first try.
Nottingham recovered well and within five minutes, prop Bernie Lozowski bludgeoned his way over from close range with Butcher adding the extras for a 6-4 green and white lead. First up shots were proving problematic against a bigger Loughborough outfit and two Loughborough tries brought the home side a 16-6 lead after twenty minutes.
Luckily for the away side Butcher had his kicking boots on and with them hauled Nottingham back into contention: first he sent up a bomb that winger Jonny Bell soared above anything purple to take and score the try; then minutes later, a similar kick was not diffused by the Loughborough back three, which allowed co-captain and loose forward, Matt Gainsford to gather and put Butcher in under the sticks to bring Nottingham to parity at 16-16 at half-time.
The second-half began in similar fashion to the first with the home side again seizing the initiative and taking advantage of green and white’s struggle to shift wide in defence to take an early second-half lead at 20-16. But again Nottingham and Butcher’s left boot were not finished as yet another teaser was lofted up for club President Jimmy Goodwin to gather in mid-air eclipsing his considerably smaller opposite number to go over in the corner and restore the away side’s lead at 22-20.
With fifteen minutes to go Loughborough looked to have the game won as Nottingham made a hash of another Loughborough kick which this time led directly to what looked like the winning score. This looked as though it wouldn’t be Nottingham’s day as both debutant Brad Skelly and Bell went agonisingly close. However, on the last tackle, and himself deciding that kicking was not an option, Lozowski rode tackle after tackle in close quarters to burrow over by the sticks and somehow restore Nottingham’s lead at 26-24. With a nerve-wracking finish on the cards the occasion seemed to get to Loughborough as their skills broke down under pressure which allowed Nottingham the territory to close the game out with another Goodwin try in the last minute. Butcher’s raised arms as he took the conversion signalled to the boys that that was it and the game was won.
There were many candidates for the man of the match but three deserve a particular mention: Butcher for his command of play and kicking game that decided the result; Lozowski for his two tries, the second of which came from a highly improbable position, and the club’s, and perhaps the sport’s unsung hero, Sam Andrews, who according to onlookers made over twenty carries, and I think it may be some way more- incredible athleticism.
To cap off a great day for UNRL, the 2ND XIII won their inaugural fixture with a 38-22 demolition of Lincoln under new captain Perri Lucatello. This was the first time in twenty-seven match days that both sides had won on the same day, and long may it continue!
Nottingham 1sts: Cunliffe; Goodwin, Lindsay, Skeens, Buckley; Butcher (C), Cook; Lozowski, Foulkes, Dillamore; Andrews, Mousley; Gainsford(C); Bell, Crummay, Skelly.