Mist rolled over the Westwood Playing Fields throughout the morning and into the afternoon of Wednesday 4th November, and the weather had formed a turf which was greasy and heavy. It was not the ideal playing conditions for the usually expansive and ambitious style of rugby seen in university rugby, but nonetheless, it marked another week in the BUCS Premier North A campaign for Leeds and Durham Universities. For the home side Leeds it presented an opportunity to build on last week’s win against Nottingham, while for Durham it was a must win affair to make amends for a home loss against Leeds Beckett.
As the game opened, it was Durham who asserted their control early on, regaining the ball from their own kick-off in Leeds half, and making good use of this territory, was able to secure possession and play through phases until they found themselves close to the Leeds try line within the first few minutes of play. This lead to the first set piece of the afternoon, a Durham scrum 5 metres out from Leeds line and a very threatening opportunity. Durham’s pack grasped the chance and showed the full threat of their set piece, driving Leeds backwards resulting in the referee awarding a penalty try. Henry Slater converted to put Durham up 0-7.
The resulting play of the first half saw a kicking battle between the two teams back three looking to provide their packs a platform in terms of territory. The loose nature of the play was somewhat reflective of the conditions, although Leeds saw the better of the breakdown, winning several consecutive penalties in Durham’s half, although unfortunately for the home side their kicker had no success at any of his three attempts at goal, and Durham maintained their lead. Durham were able to take back territory up the pitch through a break from the outside backs, and the ensuing play resulted in a penalty which was slotted by Henry Slater to bring the score up to 0-10 to the visitors. The score remained this way until the end of the half, giving Leeds a deficit to overcome at the break.
The second half began similarly to the first, Durham were quickly able to gain territory up the pitch through their success in the set piece, particularly in scrum, where the palatinate front row were able to provide forward moving ball consistently, and forcing Leeds into conceding penalties. The away side again found themselves building phases in the Leeds 22’, and after several attempts at the line, captain Buchan Richardson trucked over the line to provide Durham’s second try, which was converted by replacement Robbie Keith to bring the score to 0-17 to Durham.
The loose play in the second half became scrappy, and again Leeds made good use of the turnovers from loose ball, and again penalties allowed them to encroach on Durham’s line. After building phases and working hard around the corner, Leeds were able to provide space in the wide for their outside centre to give the home team their first points of the day, the conversion was successful to allow Leeds an inkling back into the game at 7-17.
Durham responded to this upset by tightening their playstyle slightly and used their platform from scrum and lineout to apply pressure to Leeds, forcing them to concede penalties and territory. The third try came from Brodie Wilson, who, after several attempts by the forwards at the line, took a wider line off his scrum half’s pass and was able to bust through and over the line. Another conversion by Robbie Keith put the score at 7-24.
Despite reaching the closing stages of the game and with a significant deficit to overcome, the Leeds side was one that battled extremely hard, and they came at the Durham line with great intent in the subsequent play, capitalising on Durham indiscipline and errors. Off of the back of a penalty they soon were looking to attack from a lineout 5 metres from the line. The maul which they formed lowly gained ground despite the efforts of the Durham defence; the ball was whipped from the back of the Leeds maul into the hand of their substitute back, who made good use of the angle to score Leeds second try, which again was converted to leave the score 14-24 and the hope of a valuable bonus point remained for either side.
It was however the visitors who had the final triumph, and the play came full circle in what was something of a recreation of the first score, a scrum just off Leeds try line which was relished by Durham forwards, and despite a couple of resets, they were able to drive the full 5 metres to allow Buchan Richardson his second try of the day although with a slightly easier finish at the back of the scrum, the conversion saw the score reach its finale of 14-31 which was held out to the final whistle.
For the home side, it was a tough defeat in their third game in the league, while for the visitors; it was a much appreciated 5 points which go towards the hopes of Durham in a Twickenham Final.