The annual Scottish Varsity Match returned to The Richmond Athletic Ground on Saturday 27 September with two of the oldest university rugby clubs, St Andrews and Edinburgh, going head to head for the coveted tag of the best team in Scotland.
Pre-season had come and gone and this match was once again set to provide the annual start to competitive fixtures for both these teams. Last year, University of St Andrews won an exciting match but were still underdogs going into last week’s game against University of Edinburgh’s strong squad and physical play.
St Andrews kicked off and put Edinburgh under pressure immediately with some good attacking play, attacking the blindside well but good defence from the men from the capital kept St Andrews out. Excellent scrummaging from the St Andrews pack managed to generate a couple of turnovers but that good work was undone by indiscipline at the breakdown and Edinburgh managed to gain some territory and possession. A quick tap penalty from Edinburgh scrumhalf Sandy Robson led to huge pressure on the St Andrews line and after some good phases from the forwards, Robson sniped over around the fringe for the opening score, converted by Will Stephen.
St Andrews responded at the other end with some good carrying from no 8 Alasdair Pollock and Mattie Dawson. Centre Jack Hannay seized on this good work to and found team captain Danny Clink, via the aforementioned Dawson, who crashed over the line. Clink scored the proceeding conversion.
Despite losing a 2nd row to the sin-bin not long before half time, St Andrews went on the offensive with some aggressive carrying deep into Edinburgh’s half. The Saints were awarded a penalty and once Edinburgh 2nd row Ben Pierce had been sin-binned himself Clink once again did the honours from the boot to give St Andrews another 3 points.
Half time arrived with St Andrews leading 10-7 but both teams were a player down. The second half was going to be tense.
However, before the rest of the game could be played out there was the inaugural Women’s 7s match. Although St Andrews competed well they couldn’t compete with an Edinburgh side boasting International players of the calibre of Sarah Law and thus were routed 26-0.
The second half of the men’s match was tense with some scrappy play at times. A reminder that the season is most definitely not in full flow yet. Edinburgh’s backline were proving very dangerous and made some sensational line breaks off set piece moves but St Andrews scramble defence was sensational and they didn’t allow Edinburgh over the line.
The highlight of the match came via a stunning try from St Andrews fresher Roland Walker. The new addition to the team finished off a move started by Tom Gold. He offloaded to Scott Docherty who got the ball away to Jack Hannay, the eventual man-of-the-match, who managed to pass behind his back to Walker despite being tackled just short of the line. The St Andrews alumni in attendance went wild. Imperious captain Clink completed the formalities to make the score 17-5 with just under half an hour left.
Edinburgh rallied and applied huge pressure on St Andrews with some pick and goes around the fringe right on the try line but superb defence, symbolised by a hugely significant turnover from the ever-present Hannay, saw the lines cleared and the tension eased.
With 8 minutes to go, however, Edinburgh managed to get across the line with their excellent flyhalf Will Stephen crashing over close to the ruck after some good pressure from the forwards.. He converted his own try to set up a thrilling end to the match with all the spectators on the edge of their seats.
Solid scrummaging by St Andrews squirted the ball out of the last scrum of the match on the half way line and as Edinburgh moved the ball wide looking to score, the pass was knocked on and Harry Jose kicked the ball into touch for the final whistle.
Cue jubilant scenes for the St Andrews team. A performance characterised by defensive discipline, resilience and skill had given St Andrews there second win in as many years.
Once again, the event was a huge success which was well supported by students, graduates, family and friends who got to witness two hugely entertaining and skilful games of rugby.