'That was it in a nutshell' - England Students thriller provides further evidence of flourishing university game

Two talented sides in England Students and France Universities did battle at the weekend
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A tweet from commentator and presenter Dave Rogers told you all you needed to know about the challenge ahead of England Students.

‘France have brought Top 14, Pro D2, Champions Cup, Challenge Cup and U20 talent’ was one of the sentences which referred to the quality within the France Universities side who were determined to end England’s stranglehold on the fixture.

And after three years of English dominance, the French secured a 48-43 win at Coventry’s Butts Park Arena in the academic version of ‘Le Crunch’.

Last Saturday’s game lived up to its name with an absolute stunner of a scoreline with 13 tries shared between the two sides. It was the perfect advertisement for what the university game has to offer on both sides of the Channel.

Despite going 14-0 down early on in the contest, England Students showed their class, bringing the game back into the balance.

With only two points in it with three minutes left on the clock, it was a last-ditch French try that eventually downed England.

“Both coaches will probably want to go after some defensive stuff after all of that!” reflected England head coach Darren Fearn. “ But actually, the rugby on show was exceptional. The physicality, the collisions, and just the work rate was immense.

“I think the game was a credit to both sets of players. I thought France had great spatial awareness. They brought a class offloading game and continuity. Their go-forward as well was exceptional.

“Going 14 nil down was obviously disappointing but the resilience that our lads showed just displayed what a good group they are. They remained cohesive and fought back. I think both groups of players will take so much from this opportunity to play, and they'll take that progress into their future careers.”

Both sides were made up of players with Premiership and Top 14 experience and will undoubtedly be some of the future stars of our game.

Representing England Students is the highest honour that can be bestowed on a university rugby player in England, and despite the result, the squad relished the opportunity.

Bath University lock Will Jeans explained: “It was an absolute privilege to put on the shirt. Obviously, representing your country is a massive thing and it was awesome to do that. I thought BUCS Super Rugby had fast ball in play and physicality, but this was just another level which is a great experience to have had.

“The game just turned into a bit of ping-pong rugby in the end. It was quite back and forth. I think the packs were evenly matched, even our backs. In the end, they just managed to get us on the outside a couple of times and edged the win.”

Leeds Beckett number eight Louie Kirkham agreed with Jeans’ assessment: “Obviously gutted to lose the game. I think it's been a great week, and we put a lot into a lot into this performance. There were just a few too many silly errors, mainly around a bit of discipline. It's one or two penalties the other way, and we win that game.

“It was a great game. The French obviously stuck to their identity, offloading and keeping the ball alive. We played some great rugby ourselves but missed a few chances, and they just took theirs. That’s the university rugby game right there in a nutshell. It's loose, you play on top and score loads of tries, and it's a great watch for the neutrals and fans.” 

It certainly was a great watch both for the hundreds of fans in the stands and the thousands watching via the England Rugby livestream. 

The quality of play on display highlights the athletes that these BUCS institutions are creating and the pathway that university rugby is providing. 

The England Students tradition will continue to be a vital component in the growth of the university game and the development of some of the brightest talents in the sport.