St Andrews students end Edinburgh's dominance
On Saturday the oldest university rugby match in the world, St Andrews against Edinburgh took place at University Park.
Last held at Murrayfield two years ago, when it was played out in front of 15,000 spectators, this time around 1000 watched on.
As current cup holders Edinburgh would be expecting to make it three in a row.
The early exchanges saw neither side able to break down organised defences. The flow of the game interrupted by handling mistakes and a high number of penalties. More so from the Saints. The first score went the way of the visitors, a quarter of the way into the match. Saints penalised for offside in defence. Edinburgh nudged the ball into the corner. From the resulting lineout Edinburgh set up a maul, driving over the line. Their kicker hit the top of the upright. 0-5 to the visitors.
Saints certainly were not lying down. They began to exert pressure through the forwards. But, when in attacking positions, let themselves down, giving away too many penalties and lacking accuracy in finishing some excellent attacking play. Positively, it was always in the bottom area of Edinburgh’s half.
In an absorbing segment of the first 40 minutes, both sets of players were giving everything. It was abrasive, intense and very competitive. St Andrews were finally rewarded for all their effort. From close range their hooker Josh Van Vuuren drove low through the Edinburgh’s resistance. Campbell Murray missed the conversion. Moments later the same player hit the upright with a penalty which would have slipped Saints in front.
With the referee blowing the whistle for the break, it was intriguingly tied at 5-5. Student rugby is very enjoyable to watch. Very little kicking tennis. An eagerness, willingness, and commitment to play the ball through the hands. It is a reflection on their fitness they can maintain this style of play.
Both sets of student supporters vociferously welcomed their respective teams back onto the pitch for the restart of the second half.
Saints took over where they left off. Edinburgh found it difficult to gain any consistent control of the ball. Saints Hard direct running, with high energy and work rate in defence, pressurising the visitors in giving away numerous penalties. This led to Murray extending Saints lead to 8-5 after a penalty close to the posts.
As the game developed it was evident Saints were more assertive at the breakdown. And willing to run back at Edinburgh when they tried to gain back territorial attacking advantage. For a group of players, not having played much intense rugby as a team, they were well organised, a testament to ex Scottish Internationalist and Director of Rugby at St Andrews, Scott Lawson.
Saints second score materialised from the half-way line. The forwards taking the ball on the direct route, running hard, setting up ruck after ruck. Scrum half, Dundre Maritz, snipped around the corner, before releasing Murray. Centre Gerard Pieterse was on his shoulder, powering through a couple of heavy tackles to dive and score. Murray successfully added a further two points. This gave Saints a little breathing space, but little respite, as Edinburgh, as expected, came right back on the offensive.
As in the early part of the second half, despite all of Edinburgh’s efforts, they could not match the indomitable Saints defence, incurring the referee’s displeasure, giving away penalties as they fought to gain parity. Murray capitalised from another Edinburgh misdemeanour in front of the posts to extend Saints lead to 18-5. A position they maintained until the final whistle.