Birmingham end rugby firsts' two year 22 Acres record

For the first time in over two years the rugby firsts have lost on 'Fortress 22', with an 8-3 defeat to Birmingham in the BUCS Trophy. (Thumbnail credit Photo: Sam Newsome)

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BUCS Trophy

All good things come to an end. For over two years they have remained unbeaten on 'Fortress 22' but yesterday, against one of the top teams in the country, York finally lost at home.

Few would have given York a chance in the Trophy against a side that were three divisions above them as recently as last season. Yet for 75 minutes the understrength side more than matched their opponents, defending valiantly and pressurising Birmingham with some excellent attacking play. Alex Redshaw, their captain, praised his team's efforts: "We played fantastically. The guys gave everything, I couldn't ask for more." Despite their understandable disappointment at the final whistle, this was a performance that showed York are now able to compete with the top university sides in this country.

It started as many would have expected, with Birmingham piling on the pressure in the first fifteen minutes. York defended the first attack excellently but, after being awarded a penalty and kicking to touch, were penalised for taking too long in the line-out and cheaply lost possession.

Birmingham pushed forward again but were somehow held on the line by the resilient home defence. York were awarded a penalty but were clearly struggling in the line-out, and the away side overturned the ball to attack for the third time. Birmingham themselves won a penalty and successfully kicked to the posts, but would have been frustrated that they only had three points to show for such a sustained period of dominance.

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In a tight and physical game, an already understrength York lost several players to injury. Photograph by Sam Newsome.

Despite the difficult start, however, York were to settle into a rhythm and push forward themselves. Their best chance of the half came when Tom Weir, who played excellently all match, broke through the opposition and took the ball to their try line. The ball was turned over and Birmingham kicked away in panic. It was the first sign that this game might be closer than many had thought.

The midlands side still looked dangerous, however, and missed a golden opportunity on the 25 minute mark. Attacking with an overlap, a simple pass to the left wing would have put them eight points ahead but somehow the winger was to knock the ball with his knee and send it into touch. York were hanging on by the skin of their teeth and were not helped any further when regular player Mike Callis was forced to leave the field shortly after with a head injury.

However when York were awarded a penalty on the stroke of half time, for a tackle that forced Rob Grant to leave the pitch with a blood injury, second choice kicker Tim Walker levelled the scores. With Birmingham then losing a man at the start of the second for constant scrum infringements the momentum seemed to be changing and York, with the man advantage, decided to take a scrum ten metres out. They pushed to the line and had their best try scoring chance of the game, but Birmingham just kept them out.

Christian Reid Milligan was then sent to the bin for a blatant offside and York's advantage was lost. They spent most of the remainder of the game dealing competently with the Birmingham pressure whilst sporadically hitting their opponents on the counter. Walker could have given his side the lead when they were awarded a kickable penalty between the posts, but he was unable to get the distance.

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This is the first time the firsts have lost on the 22 Acres in over two years. Their opponents were three divisions above them last year. Photograph by Sam Newsome.

In the end, after a sustained period of pressure ten metres out, Birmingham broke through. Despite clearly touching down the referee bizarrely did not initially award a try, claiming it had been held up. It had been a slightly odd performance for the official - he had earlier banned a York player from being touch judge with no clear reason - and York coach Alec Porter sportingly told him to reverse his decision. When the away side missed the conversion, York knew they had one last chance to protect their record.

That chance came when they were awarded a penalty only 20 metres out but, in his first really poor kick of the match, Walker was to miss touch. The game was then ended by an injury to York flanker Rory McGregor, the referee subsequently deciding to call time early. It was another questionable decision.

York left the field deflated but, as Redshaw said afterwards, there was no shame in losing the record against this quality opposition. Despite this year's disappointing finale - losing their record and being denied promotion because of an administrative error - the rugby firsts will be hugely optimistic for next season and will remember this as a bittersweet period - one where they announced themselves as a top university team but, somewhat unjustly, were not able to go the whole way.

York line-up: James Stone, Christian Reid Milligan, Rupert Grant, Alex Redshaw (c), Mike Callis, Ali Handy, Rory McGregor, Tom Weir, Tim Walker, Rob Grant, Gabriel Adebiyi, Will Felgate, Michael James, Ed Drewett, Tom Bugge Subs: Richard Welsh, Sam Morrison, Rich Bremner, Will Forsythe, Ryan Johnston

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