By Ollie Godden
Durham University RFC headed into the inaugural Rosslyn Park alumnus game against Exeter full of confidence after their 31-0 demolition of Bath University in game week one. In contrast, last year’s BUCS Super Rugby runners-up Exeter – who recorded the most consecutive wins of any side in 2016-17 BUCS Super Rugby – withstood a significant late surge against super rugby debutants Nottingham Trent in their first game to win 23-14.
Exeter opened the scoring with a penalty in the early stages but Durham responded well. Cali Devine, who came on as an early substitute, broke down the right brilliantly for the first try of the game. Durham playmaker Catterick failed to convert, leaving the score at 5-3 after 18 minutes.
Things got even better a minute later when captain Justin Clegg burst through two tackles and pressed on for the posts before offloading to Charlie Norman who slid over for a converted try, leaving the ‘home’ team 12-3 up.
However, after 22 minutes, Exeter began to turn the tide of the game. 2016-17 top points scorer Ted Landry broke down the middle of the park before popping off to winger Dom Thorn, who handed off Charlie Norman to bring his side back into the game.
With ten minutes left, Exeter snuck in twice to take full control of the game. Durham’s lineout began to falter and Josh Peters was twice the benefactor, scoring tries in quick succession to leave the score 12-24 at the interval.
Exeter started the second half more strongly too, with the Palatinates conceding three penalties within the first four minutes. The boys in emerald green played through the phases with the forwards before releasing the ball wide left to go over for an easy try.
Things only went from bad to worse for Durham after they failed to collect the kick-off and were pegged back in their own 22 straight away. A period of sustained pressure left Josh Peters with an easy score for his hat-trick, diving over from the back of a maul.
Tries were coming thick and fast and it looked like Durham would be the next ones to get on the scoresheet, but an extended spell of pressure threw up nothing of notable gain until the 63rd minute when Nathan Wyman went over for an unconverted try in the corner.
Six minutes later, Rory Hardman got Durham back into the game and his name on the scoresheet after Tristan Rawcliffe ran a scathing line on the right to create a two-on-one, before unselfishly offloading to 1XV veteran Hardman who went over for another unconverted try.
With 10 minutes left, Durham needed two converted tries to level the scoring and the northerners thought they had one when Fowles crashed over, only for the referee Luke Davis to deem the ball held up. Durham lost the ball in the first phase after the resulting scrum and hopes of a comeback were shattered, Exeter safely playing through the last five minutes without a scare.
In truth, the game acted as a stark awakening for the Palatinates, who would have hoped for a better showing. Pushing forward Durham will need to sort out their kicking display, an issue which has been their Achilles heel for the last few seasons.
Clegg said he was proud of his team’s for resilience. “We hit them in the first 15 minutes” he remarked, “We came through a rough patch and pushed for a bonus point but it wasn’t to be…we tried to force the offload and play that brand of rugby but we need to learn when to play that type of game.”
On the subject of the game as an Alumni event, Clegg spoke proudly of the 1000+ Ex-Durham students who came down to watch, stating: “We’re so proud of the boys for coming down, the support was just great. I’ll be an alumnus myself next year so it’s great to have this kind of thing set up.”
Durham must lick their wounds and recover in time for their next game away to Leeds Beckett, at 19:00 on 18th October.
Photograph: @KingofPutney via Twitter