VARSITY 2014: Men’s Rugby Union

Photo - Tomos Nolan

Photo – Tomos Nolan

IF THERE was any doubt as to the importance of Varsity, then the atmosphere at the rugby club on Varsity weekend will have put to bed any such thoughts. The venue, the home of Aberystwyth RFC, was a superb choice for the Men’s Rugby Union and especially on such a beautiful spring evening with such a volume of vocal and passionate supporters.

Three unanswered tries from Sam Howells, Colin Overend, and Connor Ward secured what was, in the end, a comfortable 22-3 victory for Aberystwyth. Some heroic, and sometimes brutal, Bangor defending certainly gave them a run for their money, and if it wasn’t for Aber’s clear dominance in the scrum, Bangor might have had a better platform from which to attack.

Early Aber pressure invariably came in the form of the ball-carrying abilities of loosehead prop and man-mountain, Sam Howells. Although his storming runs did relieve some pressure on the backs, Aber’s handling errors and a missed kick to touch cost them much of their hard-earned possession. In the tenth minute of the game, Aber were penalised for a late tackle and the penalty was coolly converted by Bangor fly-half and captain, Dom Hogan, making it 0-3.

With Bangor smelling blood, they continued to put pressure on the Aber defence, and in the 15th minute they were rewarded with another penalty from 30metres directly in front of the posts. On this occasion, Hogan was unable to convert and there was a palpable sense of a missed opportunity amongst the Bangor fans.

Some exciting hands and footwork from Aber captain Matt Spicer, full-back Will Lowe, and winger Chris Dennehy brought Aber deep into opposition territory only for a crucial pass to be dropped. From the resulting scrum near Bangor’s five-metre line, a big Aber push won them the ball within striking distance and Howells was able to receive the ball at pace, and power his way through for Aber’s first score. Aber fly-half Patrick James was able to convert from a tricky angle to make it 7-3.

The turning point in the game came five minutes before the half, when Bangor winger Ethan Morris was put in the sin-bin for a dangerous tackle on Aber winger Dennehy. There were immediate and loud cries of protest from large sections of the crowd and Dennehy was forced to exit the game prematurely due to injury.

Aber were clearly determined to punish Bangor for their indiscipline and the opportunity came about a minute from half-time. After winning their own line out on the Bangor 22, Aber utilised the pick-and-drive before unleashing flanker Colin Overend for a try in the corner. A herculean effort from fly-half Jones almost added another two points, but Aber entered the half 12-3 ahead.

Bangor’s scrum was consistently and categorically dismantled in the second half, yet the Bangor defence remained resolute. Aber stepped up the pressure, using big ball carriers such as Dan James-Walter, Llywelyn Williams, Nick West, and Howells in an attempt to give Jones a platform to work on the outside.

There was a period of around five minutes in the second half where Aber were camped in Bangor’s 22, meeting stubbornness with siege. The siege succeeded in the end as flanker Connor Ward powered over for the decisive try, which was duly converted by Jones. A minute from full-time, Aber converted a penalty to make it 22-3.

After the game, Bangor lock-forward George Morris was in a sombre mood: “I’m really proud of us, we played our hearts out, just gutted we didn’t win, that’s all”. Commenting on the specifics of their loss, he added that “The scrum didn’t go our way, defence went well, but they played off our mistakes really”.

Captain of Aber, Matt Spicer reflected on the game: “in the first half, we didn’t play very clinically. But second half we played with composure even though we had a few things go against us, but overall, I think we deserved to win that”. He paid tribute to Bangor, adding that “Bangor’s defence was very good, especially since last year”.

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Tomos Nolan