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York's rugby representatives fell short against the best of Durham's colleges in two entertaining and compelling matches. In the A fixture, Derwent lost 14-27 to a Collingwood side that remains unbeaten this year, while Heslington East enthralled onlookers in a back and forth match against Hatfield before falling 12-36.
Collingwood are by some way Durham's strongest college side. They have the strength in depth to field two squads and have won 27 of their last 29 fixtures in the Durham league, a record stretching back nearly three years.
Derwent, on the other hand, are experiencing one of their least successful seasons in recent memory. This year they have failed to beat James, experienced an unprecedented loss to Heslington East, and the Autumn term saw them lose to Vanbrugh for the third time in a row. As such, the home side entered the tie as firm favorites.
The game started well for Collingwood as they scored an early penalty and converted a simple try to put them ten points clear in as many minutes. They dominated territory in the first half with Derwent struggling to get a grip on the game. The visitors were well supported though, and any mistake made by a Collingwood player was met with a raucous applause from the vociferous travelling fans.
Derwent looked to be growing into the match following an aggressive drive up the field. A series of pick-and-go's nearly led to a try as the forwards got the ball across the score line, but the referee deemed the ball to be held up under the posts. Derwent lost the resultant scrum, with Collingwood turning the ball over and passing it out to the wide backs who stormed down the pitch to waltz in for a try. The team from York were made to rue their terrible defensive effort, as the consequent conversion meant they went in at the break behind by 17 points to nil.
Derwent started the second half encouragingly, but the resolute defense of their opponents meant that with 20 minutes to go, the score line remained unchanged. Derwent winger Tom Flather broke the deadlock as he cut infield, receiving the ball from his centers and running in unopposed for a converted try. Minutes later, William TP scored the try of the match, running over half the pitch and dancing past four tacklers, sending the crowd into delirium. His amazing solo effort was duly converted to narrow the score line to 14-17.
However, two marvelous scores from the visitors would not be enough to overcome a well drilled Collingwood outfit, who outclassed Derwent at the set piece throughout the match. Just as the comeback looked to be on, the Durham side crossed over for another try. Their superiority was accentuated when they scored their fourth try of the match after the 80-minute mark, despite haven been reduced to 14 men.
The final score read 27-14, giving Durham another 5 points in the Varsity. Man of the match is awarded to Derwent forward Karl Keunecke, whose tireless effort at the breakdown, resilient defending and faultless lineout work went a large way to keeping Derwent in the tie for much of the match.
Over in the B fixture, Heslington East demonstrated just how far they have improved this year with a commendable display against Hatfield College. Hatfield led at the break 14-7, although the team from York dominated the scrums against a much larger pack and built up momentum under the opportunist mindset of fly half Hilton Jones. A thrilling try from Hes East's Henry Duff silenced the onlooking crowd who were expecting an easy ride for the Durham team, now holding on to only a two-point lead.
Hes East dominated throughout long periods of the second half. Hatfield were employing a number of members of Durham's university teams, including an impressive fly half who possessed a humongous boot. His influential kicks provided Hatfield with plenty of attacking opportunities in the first half, yet without the wind on their side in the second half his side's kicking game was nullified and they struggled to add more points to the scoreboard.
Hes East nearly took the lead after a single free-flowing phase of incredible liquid rugby - reminiscent of the great Welsh sides of the 1970's - which bought them from deep in their 22 to within 15 meters of the try line, only for a clumsy knock-on to deny them the chance to take the lead.
Thereon in the game slipped from their grasp. Four unanswered tries from Hatfield in the last 15 minutes sealed Hes East's fate, while a yellow card for Matt Metcalfe and the absence of a number of players through injury only confounded problems. The full time result was 36-12 to Hatfield. Nonetheless, the visiting side played some exhilarating rugby, showing just how far they have come over the past season.