Jesus overcome John’s
College grudge match ends Jesus 12 – 6 John’s
John’s 6 – 12 Jesus
The day of college rugby’s greatest annual grudge match dawned windy, cold and wet, prompting grins of glee from the rugged jaws of St. John’s famously forward-oriented team, and shivers of dismay from their comparatively, and charmingly, dandyish and fleet-footed counterparts at Jesus College.
Jesus’ hopes to transform a wind-swept, rain-soaked patch of unfamiliar terrain into a temporary oasis of aesthetic and athletic charm, characterised by lithe-limbed beaming men bounding from post to post, the ball little more than a suggestive flash flying from hand to hand, were quickly drowned out by the grunts and curses of thick-set forwards taking turns to trundle into and over one another in the midfield.
With the sweeping, effervescent style, for which the Jesus back-line has become so known and loved, denied to them by the impressively militant organisation of the St. John’s side, spectators looked to the gritty details of the game from which to wring the expected drama.
Fortunately, both sides seemed more than willing to oblige and, with steam rising from heaving shoulders, the forwards from both teams stepped up to do battle. A period of pack-dominated deadlock followed, with particular praise reserved for Jesus hooker Ssegawa-Ssekintu Kiwanuka, whose happy willingness to hurl himself again and again into the ankles of oncoming opposition left several spectators literally sobbing with admiration.
Flanker Henry Rose, heart stamped proudly on his sleeve, set a shining example of dedication and self-endangerment, providing the pack with motivating roars of encouragement.
However, from this first stage of engagement, it was St. Johns who emerged on top, thanks to a combination of brute determination from their pack, lead by number 8 Tom Poole, and the kicking prowess of fly-half James Cliffe, to take a 3-0 lead.
Despite this momentary set-back, the Jesus team were quick to regain composure, with incisive running from the back-line working the team into an excellent position in the John’s half, from which the forwards found themselves rewarded for their earlier exertions with well-worked patterns of pack-orientated play finally finding Rose, outstretched, over the John’s try-line.
A mysterious disappearance of the John’s kicking tee, kindly, if unknowingly, lent to Jesus for an attempted penalty earlier in the game, unfortunately coincided with Jesus’s second time of need, seeing fly-half Fowey Harvey deprived of a possible two points, and the chance to double the slender lead which Jesus held going into the second half.
Half-time was a rather sombre affair, with both teams painfully aware of the respective mountains they had yet to climb, and the second half saw much of the same stalemate demonstrated so grippingly in the first, with each team’s equal unwillingness to concede coinciding with an inability to break through the opposition lines.
Credit here again goes to John’s Cliffe, whose hard, fast running came the closest to breaching the Jesus back-line, and Jesus flanker-cum-prop Ed Taylor, whose strength and controlled savagery around the breakdown upset much of John’s ball. Luckily for those concerned about John’s quickly disappearing equipment, the kicking tee was eventually found, seconds after a lapse in Jesuan discipline meant the John’s fly-half needed it to kick the fourth, fifth and sixth of St. John’s points.
A strong John’s line-out allowed them a period of sustained pressure in the second half, but they failed to come away with more than a penalty.
A slight sense of disillusionment threatened to descend upon the Jesus spectators at this point, intensified by a period of play in which St. John’s impressively abrasive organisational skills saw them settle happily on the Jesus try-line, eating into the final minutes with which the Jesuans might stage a comeback.
Valiant defence against well-structured attacking play resulted into a turn-over and, having soaked up the considerable brunt of a St. John’s charge, Jesus broke away, with fullback Michael Pelton consolidating an excellent game with a perfectly weighted kick, leaving the ball bobbling merrily just over the try-line, where he was able to make the lightest of touches to ground it himself.
An excellent conversion was slotted from the corner by Harvey, whose foppishly detached personality and style of play throughout the game both disguised a physical and intuitive rugby footballing presence, and won him JCRUFC’s Man of the Match.
With minutes now left, St. John’s displayed an admirable ferocity in attack, but were unable to maintain possession, allowing Jesus the welcome opportunity to kick the ball far into touch. A whistle blew and, amidst a flurry of congratulations, condolences and celebration, a rivalry was settled for another (half) season, the main thing being that everyone seemed to have a nice time.
Photos: Tasha Nussbaum