UCLU Men’s Fencing 1st learns a hard lesson in their first Premiership competition

UCLU Men’s Fencing 1st’s ambitions were high for their return into the Premier League. After 3 undefeated years fighting back to the top, they finally had the chance to prove their worth to the big names – Imperial, Bristol, Oxford and Cambridge.

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The weekend started with Oxford. UCL didn’t need to push too much to get a lead on saber. It was thanks to Andrei Nica, the new sabreur of the team almost carrying the team on his own, but also helped by the foilist Chris Nagle and the épeist David Sheveley. The foil continued the work by expanding the lead with an impressive performance by Nagle, a very tactical Zach Eaton-Rosen and the third man Nicolas Collignon.

The victory looked like an easy one before the épée had even started. The épée team had a slow start, thinking an overall win would be easy. However, they got behind from the start and soon enough Oxford made up for the difference.

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At the beginning of the last relay the score was 116-115 in favour of Oxford. With 12 seconds left on the clock, Collignon brought UCL back to a 120-120 tie, and with two victories on Sabre and Foil that meant an overall win.

A tactical mistake later, helped by a bit of mathematical indecisiveness, UCL had to accept their first defeat in years.

The Premier League is very different from the lower leagues – a match is never won or lost until the last point has been awarded. Maybe a more serious warm up would have helped UC a bit in Oxford’s dead cold, narrow pentathlon hall, where the lighting arrangement constantly reminded the fencers of an anxious dentist atmosphere.

After a small team talk, where cliché (but necessary) advice like “every single hit counts!” were thrown around between the team members, UCL were now facing Bristol on the fencing piste (a 10 meter long strip).

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Bristol is probably the weakest team in the Premier League this year, and this time the lead acquired on foil and sabre was enough to secure the overall win. The épée, however, were still frighteningly unresponsive and let Bristol go with a win.

The following day was expected to be a tougher one. Cambridge was first, and the (surprisingly) striking weakness of the épée team was not reassuring before the start of the match. UCL lost on sabre by a tiny margin and evened it out on the foil.

It was all up to the épée team now. The match started off well, with David Sheveley (or Shevy, nicknamed ‘the Beast’ that day) winning the first bout 5-0. Will Sturgeon was on one of his better days and ‘Captain’ Collignon stood there strongly too. The team won by more than 20 hits and proved that Saturday was only a bad memory.

Imperial, the current title holders, were UCL’s most feared match – their sabre team is composed of international level fencers only, and most teams are happy with stealing 10 out of 45 touches from them.

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Andrei Nica, UCL’s romanian star, blew everyone away once again when he got 12 hits on a single fencer. UCL, joined in by Paul Galaway, ended up losing their first relay 45-25, an incredible result against such a strong team.

The épée team followed up on their strong performance and caught up with 7 hits. The foil now had to close the game with 13 ahead if they wanted to go home with a win.

Despite having committed small mistakes, an incredible game from Zach meant that when Collignon had to close the game, he only had to win by 3. The two first ones went to UCL, and everyone believed in it, but after long and laborious exchanges, Imperial got the three following ones and appeared to be too strong this time.

All in all, a promising weekend for UCL, albeit frustrating, considering two important fencers were missing. There was potential for more. The team truly missed Matt Billing, (the team’s mentor and last year’s ‘fencer of the year’), but still managed to prove their position amongst the best teams in the UK. Four wins look like an achievable task for the second leg in January.

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Team:

Foil – Chris Nagle, Zach Eaton-Rosen, Nicolas Collignon

Épée – David Sheveley, Nicolas Collignon, Will Sturgeon

Sabre – Andrei Nica, David Sheveley, Chris Nagle, Paul Galaway