Saints slump to Varsity Horror Show

Sport editor Seoras Lyall recaps last weekend's action from Murrayfield, where Edinburgh won their first Varsity title since 2012 with a comprehensive 31-7 victory.

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Last Saturday, the kingdom vs capital Varsity fixtures concluded at Murrayfield. It had been a week full of intense competition across 16 different sports. Yet, it all seemed to be built up towards the main event, the rugby Varsity. Easily the biggest university sporting event in Scotland, and probably the third largest in the country besides the Oxford/Cambridge Boat Race and the English Varsity, it was a superb spectacle. Despite the game having no bearing on any league or cup standings, this was by far the most important match of the season and for those playing probably the match of their lives. There had been some speculation that the changes to ticket prices may lead to lower crowds this year, but with an official stadium attendance of 10,226, it seemed that few people were deterred.  

In terms of form going into the game, it looked to be a seriously close match-up. Edinburgh had never beaten St Andrews at Murrayfield, a streak that went back to 2012, but last year they had won both games in the league and a thrilling BUCS quarter final. But after all the speculation, as the pipers exited the pitch and the crowd roared, the match kicked off.

The apparent Edinburgh-Murrayfield hoodoo clearly had not been drilled into the boys in green enough as they started the game at a blistering pace. The Saints were immediately under pressure on their own try line. Eventually, a big switch in play by Edinburgh saw number 14 Peter Howard crash over inside five minutes. Despite this setback, St Andrews rallied well and number 13 Scott MacGregor had a clear breakaway following a poor clearing kick, but unfortunately he fumbled. The match settled into a rhythm of play that saw number 10 Finn Murphy do extremely well to cope with some wayward passing. Edinburgh threatened to pull away through their scrum half  but a great covering tackle just inside the 22 prevented this. Suddenly, the greens found space down the far side and number 11 Ben Rose burst through after a well timed, but suspiciously forward-looking pass. When the scores could have been level, St Andrews now found themselves 12-0 down, but with over three-quarters of the game left to go.

What followed was a period of play that saw the Saints under immense pressure. Another fumble saw them give the ball back to Edinburgh in their own 22, before their own clearing kick was then charged down. The men from the capital had weathered the St Andrean storm and were playing the game at a much higher tempo, they looked a side with more gears than the Saints. A brief stoppage in play for injury gave some rest bite, and when number eight TJ Akinjobi broke through it looked as if it was game on, but there was a forward pass not too dissimilar to the one that saw Edinburgh score their second. Instead, the next score went to them after some incredible scrummaging gave their number 9 a clear run to the try line. With the scores now 17-0, St Andrews had to score next if they were to maintain their winning streak at Murrayfield. However, flaws in the Saints game were becoming apparent, with St Andrews fumbling crucially in every attacking situation presented to them. This allowed Edinburgh to get off the hook and relieved them of some defensive duties. They also managed to dodge pressure through the superb deep running of number 11 Ben Rose, who looked a little like Richie Gray as a winger: a terrifying prospect. At halftime, the score remained 17-0, with a big team talk needed to fix the almost complete lack of attacking plan and chemistry.

The second half started fiercely, but yet again it was Edinburgh who started best with number 19 scoring a breakaway try that had even the stadium announcer convinced, but it was pulled back for a forward pass. However, another score looked inevitable. A neat reverse and switch of play saw greens captain Nick Stephan cross in the near corner. All that stemmed from our captain’s attempt to fake a clearing kick inside the 10 metre line being read easily. St Andrew’s plan of bold, incisive rugby was being ruined by their own errors. Once again, attacking positions were squandered by fumbles, while Edinburgh’s clear breaks were called back for forward passes. Things got even worse for the Saints when the simplest of clearing kicks was dropped. Finally, in the 74th minute, a strong lineout saw Akinjobi break towards the line, before number 20 Rob Lind crashed over to see the Saints on the scoreboard at last. However, just four minutes later and with both sides down to 14 through injury, Edinburgh number 13 broke clean through the defensive line and rounded the replacement fullback to take the final score to 31-7. Such was the abject nature of the contest, no one even bothered to chase two streakers at full time. Ben Rose was the Man of the Match, while St Andrews only consolation will be that in terms of BUCS, this game does not mean anything. But at the same time, they had just lost the biggest game of the season, and lost badly. They were in every way their own worst enemy.

By contrast, the women’s game that served as a prelude to the men’s had a far more positive result. While no one gave the Saints much of a chance after last year’s 97-0 drubbing and the significant number of internationals in the Edinburgh side, they came out firing. Strong scrummaging and some impressive high tackles by St Andrews fullback Shona Parratt stemmed the scoring to just 24-0 at half-time, with plenty of positives to take from the first 25 minutes.

Following the break, Edinburgh’s two international centres Elizabeth Musgrove and Amy Walter continued to run hard, scoring tries repeatedly. But then, in the 40th minute, St Andrews got significant possession in the Edinburgh half. Some patient build up and solid phase building led to a big switch in play to the left wing. Ill-discipline from Edinburgh gave them a penalty, but the Saints smelled blood. A tap and go led to more phases, before number 21 Lanita Gutieva crashed over to give St Andrews a thoroughly deserved try. At the final whistle, we had the bizarre scenes of both teams running on in celebration. The ladies had performed above expectations and were much more of an outfit than last year. Their performance truly made up for the abject display of the men that was to follow. Amy Walter of Edinburgh was awarded player of the match in a game that finished 53-7.        

        

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