Considering the two weeks that we as human beings have had to endure, you may be expecting me to begin this report with some form of whimsical, anecdotal metaphor of how the rise of women’s rugby in British universities acts as the perfect anecdote to President Trump’s prejudiced, insular and anthrax-lined inequality. But in truth, the sporting event that I witnessed at Loughborough University on Wednesday was far greater than that: it allowed all those in attendance to completely absolve themselves of the happenings across the pond; to indulge and savour what was – quite frankly – as entertaining a game of rugby as I’ve seen in a while.
But it really was rather fitting that out of all the women who took to the field, the one person who was determined to make the day about himself was the masculine figure with the whistle. It’s difficult to be too critical as he was only a volunteer, but at times the pompous manner with which he would waggle his finger was verging on farcical. On three separate occasions he called back perfectly legitimate quickly-taken penalties because he wanted ‘a word’, but it was clear to all those in attendance it was either pure obstinacy or a lack of fitness – or both. At one breakdown, he loudly blurted “shut up” to a player very tentatively appealing for a decision. What someone needed to really do was return the two-letter outburst in kind and remind him that we wanted to watch the rugby and not him. Unfortunately, Loughborough’s captain, Scarlett Cooper-Wall, decided to do just that in the 75th minute; although in not so mild a manner as I was advocating and she was correctly red-carded.
But back to the rugby, and I have a confession. As the teams were warming up, my instinct was that there could be only one winner of this match. Durham looked disjointed, disinterested and were struggling to complete the most basic of handling drills. Loughborough – on the other hand – with their video camera, pristine tackle bags, and specialist warm-up coaches flawlessly rattled through their handling drills with perfect athletic poise. I was so wrong.
Physically, Durham came out of the blocks like panthers. Their set-piece and maul made Loughborough’s pack look as if they were wearing rollerblades, and they were spearheaded by their captain Coreen Grant, who had a truly magnificent match. But it would be inaccuracies and a lack of concentration that would dominate the half because Durham had palpably been the better side, and yet they lacked a true clinical edge to put Loughborough completely away after only forty minutes.
However, tries did eventually come aplenty. Captain Grant trotted under the posts after 10 minutes, and was quickly followed by a delightfully cutting out-to-in angle from her centre partner Claudia MacDonald, and this was to set the tone for the afternoon. Loughborough were seldom able to lay a finger on either Grant nor MacDonald who combined effortlessly at times to deliver wonderfully rounded performances; physicality by the bucket loads, with regular offloads of the highest order and, when teamed with Jade Birkby conducting proceedings with orchestral aplomb at stand-off, I doubt there would have been many teams who would have been able to contain them.
Durham’s imperious set-piece continued to frustrate the home side and after Alex Webster touched down for her first try from a thirty-metre driving maul, Durham went into the break 0-17 up.
It was as if the half-time break had never taken place at all as Webster added her second immediately from the kick-off after dynamic build-up work from Trudy Cowen and Amelia Neagle who were both wonderfully industrious all afternoon.
Loughborough did mount a small comeback and were energised by the arrival of Caroline Flohil and Celia Quansah who both demonstrated the dynamic physicality that Loughborough desperately lacked in the first half. Flohil managed to grab a consolation score which was converted by Martha Farnworth, but the day undoubtedly belonged to Durham. MacDonald completed her hat trick after Grant added another try to her brace making the score 7-37. Meanwhile, the 14 women of Loughborough looked flustered and – despite their commitment – ultimately ran out of fizz.
Woman of the Match: Coreen Grant
Durham Tries: Webster 2, Grant 2, Macdonald 3
Durham Conversions: Birkby
Loughborough Tries: Flohill
Loughborough Conversions: Farnworth
Loughborough Cards: Cooper-Wall (Yellow and Red)
Photograph: Wikimedia Commons