UEL Men’s Rugby finished the season with a 100% away record to win their first league title.
In their final game of the season, the UEL squad travelled to Hackney Marshes to play City University knowing that a win against an opposition who hadn’t scored in the league since October would see them crowned the league champions for the first time in their three year history.
On paper UEL should have dominated from the start, but it was City who started the brightest and spent the first 10 minutes camped on UEL’s line. However, despite a number of close calls, UEL’s defence held firm.
UEL were showing signs of nerves and gave away a handful of penalties and free kicks before they gained their composure and took the upper hand. It was the set piece where UEL showed their experience stealing all of City’s line-out ball and the majority of scrums. I was from a stolen line-out that the first try was scored. Olie Harrington, deputising for Eoin Smaill who arrived late due to academic commitments, stole the line-out at the front, palming the ball down to scrum-half Mike Smith. This set up a flowing move which saw captain, Lewis Davy, put Mo over just to the left of the posts. 5-0.
UEL continued to pile on the pressure. A great run from Dwain McGuinness ended up with him being bundled into touch. UEL were confident that they would win the ball back, and they duly did, with another great steal from Olie, aided by superb lifting work from Alli Dodds and Luke Staples-Preston.
Despite this good line-out work, some handling errors from UEL kept City in the game. But it wasn’t long before UEL’s second try. A counter-ruck from Liam Twomey, playing his last competitive game for UEL, turned over possession and after a number of phases, Pierre Wedja had room to coast in from out wide to put the ball down under the posts. Rahul Gurung converted 12-0.
City were by no means dead and buried and a lack of concentration from UEL in defence allowed them to drive over to score for the first time in five months. A well taken conversion against the wind made it 12-7.
Dwain took a knock towards the end of the half and was replaced by Ajit in the second row.
At half time Eoin Smaill replaced Olie and Jake Turbett came on for Callum Baker at centre.
UEL upped the intensity in the second half and more hard work from the forwards put Eoin Smaill through to score UEL’s third try. 17-7.
UEL were now turning every scrum against the head and continued to win opposition line-out ball, and it wasn’t long before they scored again. A defensive scrum, five metres out from the City line was hooked back by Liam and Eoin, now playing at no. 8 with Brice moved to his familiar position at flanker, took advantage of the confusion in the City pack to charge over. Rahul converted to make it 24-7.
UEL made further changes with Christian Alexander coming on for Mo at full-back, Chris Vickers coming on for Pierre, Dan McAndrew for Brice and Samuel Green for Jonathan Dapson.
The kick-off was taken by Liam and a well timed off-load to Chris Vickers who made a great run on Liam’s shoulder set up the best flowing move of the match, with all fifteen players touching the ball as it crossed the pitch from left to right and back again. City tried hard to defend against it, and seemed to have done enough to stop UEL’s momentum just short of the line, but a number of pick and go drives saw Liam cross the whitewash for UEL’s fifth try. 29-7.
UEL made two final changes with Kyle Peters, returning from a season long illness, replacing Jake and Paul Gradinaru coming on for Alli.
The scoring wasn’t finished yet, and Chris Vickers, with a point to prove, found himself in space wide on the right and made a 30 yard run, beating two defenders, to score in the corner. 34-7.
The full-time whistle sparked wild celebrations as UEL were confirmed league champions. On the day, the scrum and line-out won the game for UEL and credit must go to Leigh Linney and Ajit Balasingham, playing out of position in the second row for the injured Nathan Hubbard and Dwain.
The title is the culmination of 3 years hard work for Chairman Liam Twomey, and he was fittingly named man of the match in his final game.
1. Luke Staples-Preston, 2. Liam Twomey, 3. Alli Dodds, 4. Dwain McGunniess, 5. Leigh Linney, 6. Olie Harrington, 7. Pierre Wedja, 8. Brice Dempster, 9. Michael Smith, 10. Jim Rossiter, 11. Rahul Gurung, 12. Callum Baker, 13. Lewis Davy, 14. Jonathan Dapson, 15. Muhammad Akbar.
Squad: Oliver Kelly, Lawrence Springate, Kier Williams, Nathan Hubbard, Daniel Read, Christian Alexander, Chris Vickers, Jake Turbett, Eoin Smaill, Ajithsingh Balassingham, Dan McAndrew, Connor Cathrall, Paul Gradinaru, Samuel Green, Kyle Peters.
Man of the Match: Liam Twomey
Tackle of the Match: Mo Akbar
Try of the Match: Chris Vickers