BUCS Super Rugby Final: Exeter clinch successive titles after BUCS Super Rugby final for the ages

Exeter have become the first side since Hartpury to defend the BUCS Super Rugby crown
©Izzy Poles/BUCS

After arguably the greatest BUCS Super Rugby final in history, the University of Exeter sealed consecutive titles as they defeated Loughborough University 48-44 following extra-time.

After an absorbing 80 minutes which saw the scores level at 41-41, the decisive moment came in the second half of extra-time as Tom Cairns' try clinched the win for the Green and Whites.

Niall Armstrong and Teddy Leatherbarrow had swapped scores early on but an intercept try from Josh Barton as well as Milo Hallam's close-range effort saw the 2022 champions lead 19-7.

Loughborough were blunted by Exeter but displayed the character that saw them lift the league title last month as Bryn Davies and fellow front-row colleague Joe Plunkett both dotted down either side of a Charlie Titcombe penalty.

However, Exeter came out of the sheds like a side on a mission and after Leatherbarrow was sin-binned for Loughborough, they capitalised on the extra numbers through Jared Williams and Harvey Dunn.

Titcombe nudged over an excellent penalty just before the hour but a yellow card to Ben Smith was punished by Kofi Barton-Byfield as his magical run saw him dart over to make it 36-27 to Exeter.

There was more drama to come though, as a yellow for Barton saw Nathan Langdon touch down from a driving maul. Exeter then thought they had won it with Hallam's second five minutes from time until Harry Rowson's converted try made it 41-41.

The first action of extra-time saw a penalty attempt from Titcombe sail wide but the Loughborough fly-half was successful with his second effort - which came off the uprights.

But this breathless finale was concluded by Cairns as he touched down to seal back-to-back titles for the Green and Whites.

Saracens’ StoneX Stadium has hosted some of the biggest names in the game but the next generation of stars shone at the home of the five-time Premiership champions.

Loughborough and Exeter had finished first and second in the domestic season - with one point separating the two sides - and this clash highlighted exactly why it had been so tight throughout the campaign.

Exeter scrum-half Armstrong opened the scoring when he sniped over but Loughborough hit back fairly quickly through former Sale Shark Leatherbarrow. 

After experiencing the final in Worcester last season, there was an argument that Exeter would be used to the 'big stage' and the Green and Whites landed the first major blow of this contest as a monstrous hit from Williams on Titcombe saw the Loughborough playmaker fumble the ball which fell kindly to Barton.

The Exeter fly-half turned up the gas and raced over from halfway before Richard Hodges' side moved further ahead through Hallam.

Exeter weren't giving Loughborough an inch and the Midlands institution needed a spark from somewhere.

Step forward winger Rowson. A surging break from his own 22 - and some slick combination play with Tom Miles - set the platform for Loughborough to work the ball wide.

Davies finished the move and Loughborough then shifted momentum in their favour. A spiral bomb from former Worcester Warrior Titcombe forced a knock-on from Exeter's Dan John and a further penalty at the resulting scrum saw the No.10 take the three points.

But there was still time for Loughborough to carry a five-point lead into the second period as Plunkett plunged over.

Whatever was said at the break in the Exeter dressing room seemed to rub off on the Green and Whites as they came out after the interval with a sense of determination. 

Waves of early pressure resulted in Leatherbarrow receiving a yellow card and the extra man was punished by Exeter straight away as Williams dived over in the corner where the travelling Green and Whites' supporters were housed.

Loughborough were quick to put this gripping contest back in the balance with a penalty from Titcombe - which he pinged over from just inside the Exeter half - but a second yellow card for the African Violet, shown to Smith for a late tackle, seemed to dent their hopes of a fightback.

Shortly after, a stunning turn of pace from Barton-Byfield saw him bamboozle the Loughborough defence as he powered over in the corner but a sin-binning for Exeter's Barton for a deliberate knock-on added another twist to this compelling game.

It was Lougborough's turn to profit from indiscipline as Langdon rumbled over from close range but Exeter came right back at their fierce rivals as Hallam's try looked to have won it.

However the drama wasn't finished there as two minutes from the end, Rowson latched on to a looping pass to cross in the corner, with Titcombe keeping his cool to send the game to extra-time. 

The Loughborough fly-half had to hold his nerve again as after missing an earlier penalty, his second attempt in extra-time went over off the posts.

But the final say came from Exeter as Cairns - who had scored for Exeter Chiefs in their recent Champions Cup quarter-final win over Stormers - clinched the title for the Green and Whites and concluded a simply sensational advert for university rugby.

Exeter Coach Richard Hodges: "I am massively proud. To go 100 minutes seems a bit of an Exeter tradition at the moment with the Chiefs doing the same a couple of times! We asked a lot of this group of players and they have delivered on the biggest stage.

"The expectation was to go back-to-back. We set high expectations on ourselves and it was something that not many teams have done before. We thought we had the right group of players to do it.

"We narrowly missed out in the league but this was to right some wrongs. It has been a hell of an achievement from every single one of the players. I am thrilled for them, thrilled for the group of coaches and thrilled for Keith Fleming.

"You don't really want to win a game 48-44! You just want to win games! I always knew it was going to be close but on this night, on this occasion we had a special group of players and that group of players have delivered."