On a crisp, sunny BUCS Wednesday playoff rugby kicked-off all around the country as the University Rugby Championship quarter-finals got underway.
The top four sides from both the northern Premier A League and its southern counterpart locked horns for the first time this season, with two games in the north of the country and two down south.
Southern A Champions Hartpury welcomed fourth Northumbria; reigning Champions Durham travelled to Exeter; Loughborough hosted Cardiff Met and the newly crowned Northern league Champions Leeds Met hosted fourth Place Bath.
BUCS Rugby 1/4 Finals:
Leeds Met v Bath
Hartpury v Northumbria
Exeter v Durham
Loughborough v Cardiff Met
The Talking Rugby Union team headed to Yorkshire to see the Northern Champs in action on a beautiful March day at Leeds Met’s Headingley campus.
After months of guess-work as to how the standard in the north would compare against those in the south it was time for the talking to stop and the rugby to take charge.
Immediately from the kick-off it was the home side, with their visibly larger pack, that dominated the opening exchanges as they quickly made their way deep into Bath’s half.
It was clear from the off that the Northern Champs were well up for the game, bringing an enormous amount of passion and determination to each collision.
As the phases began to build the early pressure eventually told when good play from the Leeds back row saw the ball break through the Bath defence and touch down under the posts; bringing the much larger Leeds contingent into cheers.
The simple conversion was duly added to give the home side the most perfect of all starts within the first five minutes – 7-0 Leeds.
Much like England against Wales last weekend, it was ill-discipline straight after scoring that nearly cost Leeds. A penalty was awarded to Bath, just inside the Leeds half.
However, the kick was missed leaving the visitors still yet to score.
Another Leeds attack slowly made its way up the field, only to be eventually stopped by a surprise Bath turnover. The visiting wing then chipped the ball deep into the corner to his opposite man.
However, a slip from the Leeds winger combined with some impressive counter-rucking saw the ball make its way back into a Bath hand, now deep inside the home 22”.
A plethora of pick-and-goes from the base of each ruck saw the Bath pack inch close and closer to the line until the pressure finally became too much with the visiting forwards placing the ball down over the whitewash for a deserved score.
Again the conversion was added to level the scores at 7-7 – what a game we had on our hands.
After the kick off a deep kick into the Bath half cemented good field position before the ball was shipped wide by Leeds from the resulting line out in an all-too-easy ‘hands’ move that left a gaping hole on the Bath flank, that the Leeds winger easily ran the ball through for their second score.
Continuing with the nature of the game so far, it was now Bath’s turn to attack the Leeds line with an attack of their own.
Another impressive kick in the game, this time from the visitors, saw them make their way deep into the Leeds half and apply lots of pressure in defence.
A golden interception opportunity arose from all of Baths hard work, with the ball in the hands of one of their props; however, the forward could not hold on and saw it slip back out again for a knock-on and the chance gone begging.
The remainder of the half was played out as a stalemate, with both teams fighting hard but to no avail.
In the first half both sides put up an impressive fight, with an exciting game of rugby played at both ends of the park.
Bath fronted up well against a much larger Leeds pack, who didn’t quite use their extra size and power to the best effect
HALF TIME: Leeds Met 14 – 7 Bath University
Much like the start of the first half it was the home side who started the stronger as they made their way deep into Bath territory once again.
After being awarded a penalty, with just a seven point lead, the home side interestingly opted for the corner and the lineout – a real testament to the confidence this side now has after winning the northern league.
And the decision proved to be a good one with the Leeds pack taking the ball cleanly and rather too easily walking the ball over the line for a pack try. The difficult conversion from out wide was missed – 19-7 Leeds.
Again, as the order of the rest of the game had already suggested it was now Bath who brought the ball into Leeds territory.
However, due to a number of contentious refereeing decisions the ball was lost and eventually cleared safely by Leeds who brought the battle into midfield, where it stayed for a large majority of the second half.
After riding the storm of West Country attacks Leeds were awarded a penalty and again chose to kick the ball into the corner and try to re-enact their earlier try.
Much to the horror of the Bath pack and the disappointment of their fans, the same thing happened again.
The ball was caught easily in the line and then comfortably trundled over the line for a try. Again, like the first time, the kick was missed again to make the score 24-7 Leeds.
Now comfortably ahead, Leeds began to sit back, but perhaps too far, as Bath stole the upper hand. Sensing this, ill-discipline got the better of the home side with one Leeds player making his way to the sin-bin.
Making the most of the difference in numbers Bath managed to show what their own pack could do as they scored a push-over try of their own and then convert, to make the score 24-14 – the visitors were not out of it yet.
Just 10 points behind, as the clock began to creep into the final quarter, disaster struck for Bath with the home side adding a final nail in their coffin and a try under the posts after a great line from the Leeds winger. 31-14.
In the final few minutes of the game the visitors did manage to get themselves a consolation try and deservedly remain closer to Leeds on the score sheet after a fantastic game of rugby.
Finally, just before the 80 minutes were up, Leeds rejected the chance to go for the corner once again from a penalty as they showed the respect they had for their southern opponents and converted a well-taken penalty.
FINAL SCORE: Leeds Met Carnegie 34 – 21 Bath University
A brilliant example of student rugby on a bright Spring day in Yorkshire saw a confident Leeds side, who led for the entirety of the game record a deserved victory over a spirited Bath and make their way through to the BUCS Semi-finals.
Elsewhere around the country, the other game took place in the north took place in the Midlands as second faced second.
Loughborough University welcomed their Welsh rivals Cardiff Met over the border in a repeat of the 2011 BUCS final.
And again, like on that day it was Loughborough who won, this time by 16 points to 13 in an incredibly tight fixture.
In the south Exeter pulled-off a surprise upset by comfortably beating reigning Champions Durham 26-3.
Finally, southern Champions Hartpury beat Northumbria University 30-8 after a incredibly close first half.
The Semi-finals of the competition take place next weekend and line up like this:
Leeds Met Carnegie H vs. Exeter
Hartpury H vs. Loughborough
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