BUCS Super Rugby Final: Loughborough exact revenge on Exeter to seal title

Loughborough held off a late Exeter onslaught to be crowned BUCS Super Rugby champions

The pinnacle of BUCS Super Rugby was finally upon us, as Exeter University took on Loughborough University at the StoneX Stadium in a repeat of last year’s enthralling final.

It was a cagey affair right from the first minute, with Exeter seeing most of the ball early on but Loughborough’s defence was impressive and matched everything that was thrown at them.

Neither side were prepared to give an inch, but slips in discipline saw Morgan Meredith and Charlie McCaig exchange penalties to open the scoring.

After soaking up plenty of pressure, it was finally the African Violet’s turn to show what they could do going forward, and it didn’t take long for their attack, which has been so impressive all season, to click. A powerful carry from Chris Preen saw him bump off two defenders and get the first try of the afternoon.

Despite Loughborough’s determined defence, Exeter were intent on sticking with their expansive attacking game that has served them so well, but the Midlands side refused to give an inch.

It was Martin Webdale's troops who were making better use of the ball and they pulled further ahead with another three points from Meredith’s boot.

Exeter haven’t often found themselves behind this season, but their resilience paid off as they got themselves back into it with their power game. Louie Gulley scoring tries off the back of the maul has been a common occurrence this term and he dotted down once more to earn Exeter their first try.

Almost instantly, Loughborough responded with a driving maul try of their own and then heaped further misery on Exeter with another flawless strike from Meredith from just inside their half to stretch the lead to 13 points at the break.

Exeter came back out the blocks firing and looked like they had a point to prove in the second half. An impressive backs move put the ball in Benjy Joseland’s hands on halfway, and the electric winger did the rest - slaloming his way past the Loughborough defence to put Exeter firmly back in the final.

The reigning champions continued to be in the ascendancy and were forcing Loughborough into errors, and found themselves in good positions twice on the 5m line but problems with the lineout handed the ball back into Loughborough’s hands.

The ball landed with Harry Rowson who found himself with space ahead of him, and a series of excellent offloads and impressive hands turned quickly to pick-and-gos as Loughborough reached the 5m line and drove themselves over to take their lead to 28-17.

Loughborough quickly got themselves firing again as they attacked well down the right-hand side and a deliberate knock-on from Exeter forced the referee into handing out the first yellow card of the game and awarding Loughborough a penalty try, to firmly put themselves in the driving seat.

Once again, Loughborough were applying all the pressure and looked to have a huge overlap on the right-hand side, but an intercept out of nowhere from Joseland saw him gallop to the line with no one in front of him, giving Exeter a lifeline in the final.

Momentum was now firmly with the Devonians and a delicious offload from Hugo Ellerby put the ball in Joseland’s hands who went over in the corner for his hat-trick. An incredible kick from McCaig from the touchline put Exeter to within a try.

Once more, Exeter found themselves down the right end of the pitch but an intercept from Elliot Gourlay meant Loughborough looked set to seal the game but an outstanding tackle by Ben Coen forced a knock-on and handed the ball back to the Devonians in their own 22 with a minute left on the clock.

The next three minutes were relentless, as Exeter went through over 20 phases, desperate to find a score from somewhere, but the African Violet’s defence was as strong as it had been all evening.

Exeter tried everything in attack but a counter-ruck from Loughborough saw the ball end up on their side and the full-time whistle was blown to confirm Loughborough as the 2023/24 BUCS Super Rugby National Champions.

It was a final that, once again, did not disappoint. Despite Exeter being the dominant force in the league, knockout rugby is a different story and an impressive performance from the African Violet saw them earn revenge for last season’s final and deny Exeter the sought-after league and cup double.

The 35-31 scoreline put an end to another unbelievable BUCS Super Rugby season, with next year likely to hold just as much drama.