A late converted try from Sam Campbell secured a 14-8 victory for Nottingham Trent over the University of Nottingham in the 2013 Charity Varsity Rugby League.
Full back Adam Cunliffe had looked set to secure Uni at least a draw when he crossed with about 15 minutes remaining, but Trent hit straight back, before holding onto to level the Varsity series 2-2.
Despite missing key player and Athletic Union President, Jonny Bell, Uni started off on the front foot as they looked to attone for Trent’s 34-24 victory in the 2nd XIII’s game earlier on in the evening.
The game was attritional – brutal if not pretty – but it was Uni who dominated territory early on.
Despite their possession and territory, however, there were few chances for either side – the occasional big hit providing the main excitement for the near frost-bitten crowd at Harvey Hadden.
On the few occasions Uni did create genuine opportunities, due to a combination of Trent handling errors and powerful running, they were usually undone on the final tackle – both Will Cook and Mike Butcher seeing their grubbers pass all the way through the ludicrously small dead-ball area.
Fortunately for all the green and gold fans who made the short trip, Uni’s pressure was rewarded 10 minutes before the break. A rare decision to go wide through the hands paid off as after a long pass from Will Cook, prolific winger Jimmy Goodwin went over in the corner.
Uni initially threatened to build up a head of steam and increase their lead but going behind appear to galvanise Trent. Their hooker, Aaron Frost, began to dictate play, pinning Uni back with some smart kicking, whilst making an important defensive contribution the one time Uni did seriously threatened to double their lead.
Uni’s ill discipline in their own half provided Frost with an opportunity to set up a rare period of concerted Trent pressure and to their credit, they did not pass up the opportunity. Despite being a half dominated by kicking from hand, it was once again the wide men who did the damage as Trent powered their way over the line to level the scores at 4-4. The final chance of the half fell to Uni but their failure to take their chances was once more their undoing.
Trent had recovered from a few early drops and were dealing well with Uni’s aerial bombardment – Butcher sending kick after kick into the floodlit sky.
Unfortunately for Uni, Trent were also proving clinical in attack as, despite conceding much possession and territory, the whites touched down in the corner. The referee, after consulting with his touch judge, awarded the try which saw Trent lead for the first time as the game entered its final half hour.
Uni were evidently keen to regain parity but were hampered by a lack of cutting edge, forcing Butcher to kick from deep time after time.
Fortunately, their cause was helped by some Trent ill discipline and ultimately weren’t behind for long. Two quick penalties, including a needless offside, gave Uni territory once more, a period which ended with Cunliffe sprinting home to level the scores. Cunliffe, who had been immense for Uni under the high ball all evening, ran a beautiful line from deep, rewarding his side’s risk to run on the final tackle, setting up a tense last 15 minutes.
Uni were undone almost immediately, however, as some good hands saw Campbell crash over. Howley’s expert touchline conversion, the only successful place kick of the night, gave Trent that all important six point lead, one they were able to hold onto, sparking wild celebrations on the final whistle.