By Will Jennings
Like the Six Nations, the annual DURFC charity-inspired season opener comes around one time each year, and, like the Six Nations, this year’s spectacle provided its usual dose of raucousness and unpredictability both on and off the pitch.
It took 45 minutes for Durham to break the deadlock here, but it soon turned into a dominant and majestic second-half performance from Justin Clegg’s men at Durham City. Durham were superb after what was a nervy first-half affair, roared on by the jubilant purple-blazered faithful in the rustic solitary stand at the old ground.
Captain Justin Clegg led by example to dive over at the start of the second period following some patient build-up play by the home side, breaking down a tenacious Bath defence and laying the foundations for a more aesthetic display to emerge. The way the men in purple refused to panic and stuck to their game plan was laudable, a sense of patience that reaped its rewards as the away side grew weary of such relentless tackling, rucking and defending.
It had not started so well for Clegg’s new-look team, who struggled to infiltrate the Bath half in a physical and close-run first 20 minutes. Nevertheless, such a lack of territory was more than compensated for by the volume of forceful challenges being put in by Durham, who successfully thwarted all of Bath’s attempts to penetrate a resilient backline.
The tide did begin to turn towards the end of the first period, as Durham sought to advance further up the field and translate their well-drilled defensive display into points. This plan almost came to fruition just before half-time, with the forwards pressing hard and camping Bath on their own five-metre line.
While minutes of pressure appeared to foreshadow a first try of the BUCS season, the half-time whistle blew with the score at 0-0, providing Durham with the opportunity to regroup and collect their thoughts during the ten-minute interval.
While Clegg and Head of Rugby Alex Keay attempted to motivate their team in the warmth of the club’s dressing rooms, the increasingly vocal crowd filled their pockets with £1.50 cans of Carling. The turnout for the annual fixture – that surely generated thousands of pounds for charity Sport in Action Zambia given the number of students present – was superb, with the bank opposite the main stand filled with hundreds of jovial Durham returners.
And the home fans soon got what they wanted. Following a much-improved first five minutes from Durham, Clegg opened the scoring, intelligently opting to go alone rather than distribute the ball out wide and ending Bath’s stubborn resistance. Durham fly-half Tom Catterick duly added the extras, instilling the team with the confidence to go on and add to their points total.
Then the floodgates opened. Centre Charlie Norman was next to break free and score, possessing too much pace for the tiring Bath defence to increase the travelling side’s deficit. Catterick again added the extras, slotting a penalty to make the score 17-0 with twenty-five minutes remaining.
Joe Duffy and Charlie Wilson also added to the home side’s total on 60 and 70 minutes respectively, taking the game away from Bath and making the score 31-0 thanks to Catterick’s precision in front of the posts.
The elation amongst the whole club at full-time was palpable, as demonstrated by the fans’ frequent renditions of Depeche Mode’s ‘Just Can’t Get Enough’ throughout the second period. The resident DJ for the night was on good form, facilitating an atmosphere that was certainly conducive to producing an impressive display.
Clegg and Keay’s delight was evident in their post-match interviews, praising debutants such as the excellent Ben Fowles and commenting on the team’s perpetual industry in both defence and attack.
Such an impenetrable defensive performance was surely the product of a well-organised and diligent pre-season, with the enhanced employment of video analysis enabling the squad to reflect on matches and improve on previous performances.
So Durham march on. Exeter await next, a unique fixture that sees both teams travel to the capital to meet at Rosslyn Park. Clegg and his side are ostensibly looking forward to the challenge, a game of considerable magnitude that will provide them with their first real test of this BUCS season. On Wednesday night’s evidence, they look well-equipped to succeed.
Photograph: Durham University