Last four ties prove that the 'Showdown at the StoneX' is set to elevate university rugby even further

Loughborough and current champions Exeter will do battle once again at Saracens' StoneX Stadium on April 17th
©BUCS/Izzy Poles

BUCS Super Rugby and the Women’s National League have provided us with thrilling encounters all season, so it is no surprise that this theme continued in the knockout stages.

With an average of just under 70 points being scored across all four semi-finals, the teams heading to the StoneX Stadium on April 17th have now been confirmed, with finals day set to provide endless entertainment, just as it has done over the last few years.

The first of two Devonian semi-finals belonged to the WNL, as Exeter University welcomed Loughborough University, with both sides having beaten each other in the regular season.

Both attacks were free-flowing throughout the first 40 minutes, as Loughborough’s three tries took them into half-time with a 24-17 lead.

The two teams exchanged scores straight out the gate, but a try from England Under-20s international Lilli Ives Campion in the 62nd minute extended the African Violet’s lead to nine points, a gap Exeter could not close.

A thrilling game ended 38-34 in favour of the visitors who pulled off a huge upset to book their place in the Women’s National League final.

One hundred miles up the road, league winners and WNL dominators, Hartpury University, played host to Cardiff Met University in the second semi-final of the afternoon.

Having been the dominant force in the league for so long, it would take a lot to topple Hartpury, but the Archers certainly did not die wondering.

They put in an impressive performance, but the hosts’ quality proved too much as Harptury came out 45-31 winners in yet another high-scoring affair.

This victory secured Hartpury a place in their third straight National Championship final and they will look to make it three victories in three years and yet another league and cup double.

Loughborough will need to put in an almighty performance to take the top spot from Hartpury, but they have shown all season that they are capable of causing an upset. It is certainly a dynamic that will make for an exciting final.

Whilst they fell short in the WNL, Exeter University’s BSR side were determined not to do the same as they welcomed Bath University to Devon.

Both sides had quality littered all over their starting line-ups, with the Blue and Gold even welcoming back some Under-20 Six Nations winners in Billy Sela and Scott Kirk for the knockout stages.

The first half saw both teams exchange two tries each, with Jack Forsythe scoring a cracker for Exeter and Bath’s rolling maul also proving a nuisance but the hosts carried a 20-17 lead into the break.

Exeter’s attacking game has been a joy to watch throughout the season, but the second half saw them turn to the pick-and-go strategy as they raced away from Bath and ended the game 40-27 winners.

Just like Harptury in the WNL, Exeter are targeting three straight National Championship victories and also the coveted league and cup double. It really has been a dream debut season for head coach Gareth Elliot.

The last semi-final of the day took us to the Midlands as Loughborough University welcomed Hartpury University in what was set to be a tight encounter, with the two sides finishing within two points of each other in the regular season.

Two Hartpury penalties and a stunning score out wide from Matthew Ward pulled the visitors out to an 11-3 lead after an edgy first 40 minutes.

The African Violet’s attack must have been given an inspiring team talk in the sheds, as it came out firing, with four scores from the hosts moving them 37-19 in front.

Another Ward stunner and a late surge from Hartpury was not enough to get them back into it, with the match finishing 37-26 in favour of Loughborough.

Just like Exeter last year, Loughborough have secured a spot in the final. This victory over Hartpury sets up a repeat of 2023's epic showdown at the StoneX - a game that was decided after 100 minutes, eventually finishing 48-44 to the Devonians.

It was an encounter that is arguably the best university rugby game of all time but Loughborough will be out for revenge.

Whilst the outcome of games is impossible to predict in the WNL and BSR, it is a certainty that April 17th will be an enthralling day of rugby with two mouth-watering finals.