In a match that was determined more by the conditions than by the quality of rugby, Sussex Men’s 1st were unable to prevent an 8-6 defeat to Royal Holloway. Despite strong defensive performances throughout the team, the defeat came courtesy of a try in the last ten minutes. It proved too much for Sussex to come back from.
On a chilly afternoon, on a boggy pitch, the match kicked off. With the conditions as they were, no-one expected fluid and enterprising rugby, and that prospect was realised as the game descended into a battle of attrition amongst the forwards.
For a good majority of the half, Sussex were camped in their own half, and often within their own twenty-two metre. Although Holloway didn’t appear dynamic enough to breakthrough, it was patently obvious that to make any impact in the match Sussex had to wrestle some possession and territory of their own. The boots of Rob Dowling and Mark Montague were providing some momentary relief, but Sussex needed inspiration. This they achieved as flanker Ben de Glanville made a series of tough, crunching tackles. It lifted the team and the watching support. Soon, fellow-flanker Alex Smith made a break through the Holloway line, only to see the attack halted by a knock-on.
As the half drew to a close, Holloway twice had opportunities to go in front. However their winger missed both, rather presentable, penalties; one must wonder how much the boggy and heavy conditions impacted upon this. As the whistle blew, Sussex went in 0-0, and had been more than up to the defensive task. They had admirably repelled everything Holloway had thrown at them, but without any penetration of their own. If Sussex were going to win, they had to start attacking, and score points.
The second half proved to be a lot more entertaining and Sussex showed a lot more endeavour by beginning to penetrate the Holloway defence. This effort was rewarded with a penalty, converted by Dowling. Although galvanised by taking the lead, Sussex were unable to stay in front for long as Holloway hit back with their own penalty; given for hands in the ruck.
Holloway continued their momentum, but Sussex put heart and soul into defending their try line. de Glanville was once again making ferocious hits and epitomised the spirit of the team. Although the spirit was fantastic, they still couldn’t properly break out of their own half and get the backs into the game. Another missed penalty by Holloway was a let off, before de Glanville soured his performance with an adjudged high tackle; as the match entered its final stages, Sussex were down to fourteen.
Holloway took advantage of Sussex’s handicap and three minutes after the sin-bin scored the first, and only, try of the match. It was a blind side move from a five metre scrum, finished in the corner by the scrum-half. Sussex were finally undone on the seventy minute mark but were defiant. They rallied with a late penalty to bring themselves back within two – and Holloway went down to fourteen for a punch – but it was too little, too late.
Sussex had felt aggrieved by the performance of the referee during the game. However, after the match David Bennett defended his decisions. “The spirit of the game was very good,” he said, “although both teams gave away a lot of unnecessary penalties. This could have been down to the boggy and difficult conditions.” Sussex captain Pete Holmes agreed with Bennett about the conditions, but refused to blame the referee, instead pointing to the amount of defensive effort the team put in. “We defended brilliantly, but didn’t have enough of the ball today, and we eventually conceded during the sin bin period.” He also commended the effort of his players, in particular Dean Graham and flanker de Glanville.
This match was also the culmination of the Austin Healy project with the team. He talked to us after the match, and stated his belief that, “all the guys here are a great credit to rugby. But the shame with university rugby is that you break up after three years. So, I hope that after uni they go on to play in other clubs as they would all be an asset to any team.”