Supporters braved the wild elements at Lady Bay Stadium on Sunday afternoon to witness an enthralling 20-10 win for the University of Nottingham (UoN) Women’s Rugby Union team over Nottingham Trent University (NTU), and an unfortunate 17-20 defeat in the Men’s fixture, leaving the overall Varsity score at 5-2 to the Green and Gold.

UoN Ladies turn on the style in second-half salvo

The drizzly and blustery conditions at Lady Bay Stadium did not phase UoN’s female first XI prior to their early afternoon kick off. With 4 victories in the previous 5 Varsity series, and a 2nd placed finish in BUCS this year, the Women’s team were brimming with confidence ahead of the match. Trent, meanwhile, were in need of their first Varsity win since 2010 and were looking to salvage some success from a poor season, after ending the campaign bottom of Midlands league 1A.

The game began positively for Trent, with a try within the first five minutes as they pounced on a loose ball 10 metres from the try line and took a 5 point lead. UoN made a swift reply, however, as a driving ruck, starting at Trent’s 22 metre line, gained vast territory and ended with Jade Dennett coming so close to touching down for UoN. After a subsequent ruck, flanker Aoife Fehilly dived over the try line to equal the scores at 5-5.

UoN improved their ball retention in the second half as the green and gold’s wingers enjoyed more possession

It was honours even until half time as UoN weathered relentless Trent attacks with some emphatic tackles from number 8 Lizzie Sykes and fly half Kate Williams to keep the ladies in pink at bay. The second period began in similar fashion with an early Trent try, with NTU capitalising on some careless UoN passing to make the score 10-5 to our inter-city rivals.

Trent failed to consolidate their lead however, and within a matter of minutes Fehilly touched down for her second try of the day, after a scrum on the five metre line.

UoN improved their ball retention in the second half as the green and gold’s wingers enjoyed more possession. Four passes from a wide position allowed Anna Botting to cut inside and dive to ground to give UoN the lead for the first time in the match.

Their lead was increased shortly after, with arguably the try of the day from Aoife Fehilly. A line out was offloaded, and after a string of five cross field passes, Fehilly made a 20 metre dart to the corner, leaving 4 Trent full backs in her wake to touch down for UoN, completing her third try of the day and increasing the green and gold’s lead to 20-10.

UoN held their lead until the final whistle, completing what was in the end a comfortable victory after a more evenly contested first 40 minutes. A mixture of delight and relief beamed across the faces of the green and gold’s players as Impact Sport spoke to hat-trick hero Aoife Fehilly and captain Lizzie Sykes after the match. Fehilly said that ‘the victory was a relief, due to the endless training and hard work put in by all the girls throughout the season,’ while Sykes expressed her elation for making it 5-1 to UoN in the series.

Heartbreak for the Men’s in ill-disciplined encounter

With the women’s team achieving an outstanding 20-10 victory, could the men replicate their success in their later showdown with Nottingham Trent University? UoN needed a victory for an optimistic end to what was a disappointing 2015/16 season as the first XI finished bottom of BUCS  Premier North A with 4 points.

Trent had enjoyed a more successful campaign prior to the game, finishing 3rd in Premier North B, despite losing 4 out of their last 5 league matches. UoN’s record in Varsity is more promising, however, with defeats to Trent on only 2 occasions in the last 7 years, and winning last year’s fixture 24-12.

As anticipation grew prior to the match the hostile atmosphere was boiling over on the sidelines, with stewards having to stop conflict between Trent and UoN supporters in the grandstand. The crowd of almost 1000 spectators gathered around all sections of the pitch at Lady Bay to see if the University of Nottingham could further increase their lead in the Varsity series.

Trent began the match in uncompromising fashion, and NTU broke through the ranks around the 22 metre line to dive over the try line to register a 5-0 lead. Some driving rucks forced through by prop Greg Blanchard after some accurate kicking to the corner from fly half Rob Smith resulted in a scramble by the try line as the ball broke to captain Ali Burton, who dived over the line for the green and gold. Smith scored the subsequent conversion to make the score 7-5 to UoN.

Tensions then accelerated with a mass brawl which ensued after a scrum in the middle of the pitch. The referee quickly diffused the situation and Nottingham Trent’s C. Wallace was sin binned for repeated offences. Rob Smith then kicked the subsequent penalty through the posts from 30 yards to better UoN’s lead to 10-5.

The temperature had certainly reached boiling point at Lady Bay as fighting on the pitch was matched in the stand. Stewards forced UoN and NTU supporters to exit the grandstand and separated the two groups of spectators.

On the pitch, however, the University of Nottingham were asserting their dominance in the first half, as props Alex Bloisi and Greg Blanchard were responsible for emphatic tackles and drives past the Trent 22. George Saunders and James Murdoch found much joy with darts down their respective wings.

It was only a matter of time before our green and gold band of merry men struck bullseye once more. The ball dropped to outside centre Ali Burton again who drove the ball over the line. The conversion was again successful from Rob Smith as the pair made it 17-5 to UoN going into the interval.

The second half began with the University of Nottingham driving forward once more with Bloisi and Blanchard forcing the rucks through Trent’s half as the green band of merry men looked to consolidate their lead. However UoN were hampered by sin bins to two players before the break leaving extensive gaps for Trent to exploit on the attack early in the second half.

A successful Trent conversion meant the game was tied as the match entered its last five minutes

NTU quickly pulled an unconverted try back to decrease the score margin to 17-10. Trent’s  comeback spirit was then in full swing while the UoN coaches and substitutes on the sidelines were enraged over the sin bins and poor refereeing decisions. A turnover on Trent’s 5 metre line led to a breakaway as the ball fell to left winger Obanubi who exchanged passes with Hogan and sprinted 25 yards to touch down for the men in pink. A successful conversion meant the game was tied as the match entered its last five minutes.

The University of Nottingham were overwhelmed by Trent’s attacks as our rivals won a penalty in the dying embers of the game at Lady Bay. NTU opted to kick from 25 yards and to the heartbreak of UoN players and fans, the ball was angled through the posts meaning Trent’s comeback was complete win the score at 20-17.

The despair was apparent among the green and gold as UoN players dropped to the floor with heads in hands while the Trent fans characteristically invaded the pitch expressing their delirium at an almighty comeback from our rivals. Our players failed to capitalise on the emphatic first half display which presented Trent with a route back into the game meaning the men were unable to match the women’s outstanding performance earlier in the day .

Nevertheless, the figures that matter is the 5-2 lead   UoN take from Sunday’s rugby Union matches with one point registered from the women’s victory and one point for Trent in the men’s encounter, which represents an astonishing early lead to take into this week’s Super Wednesday and the remainder of the events in this 2016 Varsity Series.

Words by Joe Tanner

Image: IMPACT Images Team

Follow @ImpactVarsity16 for more updates on the 2016 Varsity Series.

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