Beat the Best. Be the Best
When Britain is in the grip of heavyweight boxing fever, it's a time we should observe the rules and traditions of the great sport. The debate will rage on for months as to who is best Fury or Joshua (a trivial debate compared to the titanic battle and monumental impacts of Warwick v Nottingham). But what cannot be doubted is that once one man becomes undisputed champion then whoever beats them then takes up the title. So that was the prospect facing WURL today for their final game of the season. After the disappointment of Varsity being cancelled, Warwick welcomed a Nottingham side who were undefeated in the league all season and had wrapped up the title after just 6 of their 10 games. They put their title on the line at Fortress Cryfield and I think you can take an educated guess who ended up flat on the canvas and who took home the belts. WURL don't lose at Cryfield.
Warwick came in to the game with a few players missing due to exams and injury but still a very strong side for the finale of the season. Emotions were running high as it was the last time many of the players would pull on the famous shirt. The club had been the life, the friends and the brothers of these boys for their whole uni experience. They will miss the club and the club will miss them. It was with this in mind that the team marched out to the field looking to give them the perfect send off and also avenge the opening day 24-10 away defeat. There was a slight air of apprehension that the pitch would be a swimming pool but for the first time ever the drainage had been just about sufficient to restrict it to a bog. Warm ups began and it wasnt a good start as the ball had been left in the changing rooms. It turns out the transition between Kit Secretaries wasnt as smooth as the team may have hoped but with a ball, a ref and two teams ready Brad appeared from amongst the trees and the game could begin.
A short kick was just about held by a retreating Nottingham player but a strong chase and tackle immediately put them on the back foot. Some strong carrying gained some momentum and they made a half break but Adam Cox covered across and made the rip and Warwick got the scrum 30 metres from the Nottingham line. Some determined lines inched WURL forward before a chip from Brad Sheridan caused mayhem in the away sides defence. As the on rushing attack attempted to collect the ball they could only push it towards the dead ball line but Yousif Shehabi dived on it before it could trickle over the line and Brad added the extras to make it 6-0. The home fans were as jubilant as the players as the Nottingham players looked despondent at how early their defence had cracked. President Tom Palmer could be seen celebrating on the touchline and his energy levels never seemed to drop as he ran up and down with play cheering the boys on. Unfortunately, the lack of any solid structure in his jaw prevented him playing any part on the field but he made sure his presence was felt.
WURL set up ready to go again and began a powerful attack but the defence matched it. Despite some organised play from Warwick when it came to defending, Nottingham managed to find an overlap down their right side and only a heroic covering tackle from Sam Walton could stop them levelling the scores. The scramble defence was solid from the home side and they soon found themselves pinning Nottingham back to their own line. Some lazy defence from Adam left Notts some space to attack as they cut back inside but fortunately he made up for it by dislodging the ball in the tackle and winning a scrum just inside the away team's half. Some more determined attack got Warwick within 10 metres and George Edge chose not to kick on the final tackle and put Jacob Hewson through a hole to power over the full back and Brad's kick from out wide fell just short to keep it 10-0.
The league leaders were stunned but had not yet been dealt a knockout blow and came back strongly before some lacklustre defence let one of their forwards power over but the conversion attempt was poor and it was 10-4. The warwick defence held firm under pressure for the rest of the half and the score remained the same at half time.
The half time talk was a possibly the greatest indicator of how far this team has come over the season. We were 6 points up on the best team in the league and the whole discussion was about improvements. Despite such a great first half, the team knew there was a little bit more in the tank.
This showed in the second half as the tackling from the Warwick team remained resolute and, despite giving away a few penalties that put them under pressure near their own line, the defence never truly looked like cracking. The talk from Nottingham was all about belief but there was a hint of resignation in the fact that they had run out of ideas for how to get past the boys in red. The slippery conditions meant handling errors kept coming in to the game and the repeated scrums meant the game lost its fluency which helped Warwick organise their defence but also kept the Nottingham attackers fresh to make thundering carries.
But one team had to crack first and it was the away side. An attempted kick was blocked by Pierre who then beat the notts players to the ball to poke it further down field before diving on it less than 10 metres from the line, a gain of 70 metres made in an instant. The Notts defence was flagging and couldn't make it back before Pierre got up and played the ball to allow George to pass to Jacob who was never going to be stopped from such close range despite the fact 3 offside defenders attempted to. The extras were added and at 16-4 it felt like Warwick were going to come out of the game with something as the league leaders had 15 minutes to score 3 times to maintain their perfect record.
A clever kick off to them good attacking position but the band of brothers stood up for one another and ensured that any mistakes were corrected without anybody crossing the whitewash. A specific mention must be made to some of Joe Laverty's tackling on the wing to bring down some of Notts' biggest players in order to shut down overlaps in a display that was interpreted by our President as an audition to play at loose forward next season. The solid defence was interspersed with relentless carries including one from George Edge that took us all the way from our own line to half way despite the attentions of the entire Nottingham right side. This lasted until the last 30 seconds when they found space out wide and the Warwick defence finally lost its intensity and conceded a consolation try. When the kick was missed and the final whistle was blown, WURL erupted in to jubilant yet exhausted cheers as they had toppled the seemingly unbeatable and come away with a 16-8 win. It is a sad to see so many members of the WURL family play their final game for the club but any such feelings can be delayed for another day as today is for the elation of sending them off in the perfect way. Unbeatable.
It's also appropriate that the season ends with Fortress Cryfield spending yet another season unbroken. Everyone deserves a special mention but I'll name just a few. Clearly Jacob had a very strong game and fully deserved his two tries. Sam Featherstone was at his irrepressible best making carry after carry before tackle after tackle alongside fellow prop Augustin Laupretre and Ethan Cross joined them making seemingly endless strong runs at the Nottingham middles who were all about 20kg heavier and 4 inches taller than any Warwick player. Man of the Match was awarded to Adam Cox. Not sure why and I haven't received any explanation from those who voted for him. Pure madness. But he is very proud to receive such an award from his team mates on his final appearance. So congratulations to Nottingham for a very impressive season and for winning the league which makes them the unofficial champions of the midlands. But officially, we all know the rules of what makes a team champions so we all know the real truth. *Prepares awful Michael Buffer impression* "The undisputed rugby league champions of the Midlaaaaaands......Warwick University Rugby Leeeeeaaague."