The injury-ravaged St Andrews men’s rugby team suffered a disappointing 35-20 defeat to Loughborough threes on the opening day of the new BUCS season last Wednesday.
Captain Roland Walker, vice-captain Rob Lind, and first team regulars Scott MacGregor and Lex Kulukundis joined Toby Hall and Ruari Bell on the treatment table ahead of this game, meaning there were BUCS debuts for Stephen Tue, Richard de Rome, Kelvin Chen, and Harry Carden. In Walker’s absence, fly-half Finn Murphy captained the side against a team whom St Andrews put 14 tries past last season.
However, Loughborough began the game the brighter, opening the scoring after 11 minutes. A succession of collapsed scrums on the five-metre line saw the referee award a penalty try and give the away side an early seven-point lead.
St Andrews got on the scoreboard through Murphy’s penalty on 25 minutes, but as that old adage goes, you are most vulnerable after just scoring, and the away side posted an immediate riposte.
Several quick pick-and-gos from the kickoff allowed them to go over in the far corner and extend their lead to 11 points. Minutes later Murphy had the chance to reduce the arrears with a penalty, but his kick went wide of the post, and the away side scored their third try of the afternoon moments before half-time.
Murphy failed to make touch from a penalty and Loughborough scythed their way through the midfield with precision, eventually dotting down between the posts. That gave them a 21-3 half-time lead, and there was a lot for the home team to consider during the break. Defensively there were too many missed first-time tackles, which allowed Loughborough to work their offload game, and when in attack, St Andrews was far too happy to kick away possession; even when they did retain it, the backline was too flat, thus allowing Loughborough to read their opponent’s play and force errors.
The 10 minutes following the break were scrappy, but the game changed course on 51 minutes. Loughborough’s number eight and captain was sent to the bin for repeated offences at the breakdown, and this one-man advantage gave St Andrews all the impetus they needed. They were able to go over the whitewash twice in his absence and reduce the lead to six points.
Scrum-half Charlie Davies scored the first of those tries, and after his incisive pick-and-go from a ruck caught the away defence napping, so he was able to evade three timid tackles before scoring between the posts, giving Murphy an easy conversion.
The other came just two minutes later with TJ Akinjobi going over after some impressive scrummaging from the home side. The conversion was missed though, and soon after that the Loughborough captain returned to the fold and they recovered the cutting edge that had served them so well in the opening period, scoring twice in the final 10 minutes to kill off any chances of an improbable St Andrews comeback.
The St Andrews defence faced wave after wave of sustained pressure following the away captain’s reintroduction, going over himself in the corner before some shoddy defence from the kick-off allowed Loughborough to work the hands through their backline, sending one of their substitutes in to score.
The away side’s kicking was imperious throughout the afternoon, and they led 35-15 with five minutes to go, but St Andrews were able to secure a consolation effort in the closing stages. Akinjobi ripped the ball from a maul, releasing vice-captain Michael Sutherland to make a fantastic solo run before unselfishly passing to Jacques Sharam to score in the corner.
Following up their disappointing Varsity loss with another defeat was a blow for St Andrews, but there are some positives to be taken from their performance. They outscored their opponents in the second half, and at times they played with evident pace and purpose, whilst for such an inexperienced and injury-ravaged side they demonstrated fairly good chemistry.
St Andrews now face consecutive away games against the Leeds Beckett twos and Strathclyde ones, followed by the return game against Strathclyde at University Park on 25 October.