Stepping off the coach and making our way into a Ricoh Area still being battered and bruised by the remnants of Storm Doris, the tension was palpable. Whilst the Warwick and Coventry student contingents were dwarfed by thousands of roaring Wasps fans, it was clear that everyone knew the real reason why we were here. The Varsity finale was upon us.
In contrast to many Varsity events, Rugby Union is often too close to call, with Warwick snatching a dramatic last-minute winner in last year’s competition. As the players lumbered onto the field amongst a surprisingly cacophonous applause for such a small crowd, it was clear that both teams knew that there was everything was to play for.
The game got off to a ferocious start…resembling a pub brawl
The game got off to a ferocious start, more resembling a pub brawl when compared to the elegant preceding game of rugby played between Wasps and Gloucester. Within a minute, Warwick’s Will Taal was felled as he clattered head first into an opposition player’s boot. The incident reflected what was at stake and emotions were running high. Stretchered off 10 minutes later and replaced by Antoine Cornet, the injury did nothing to slow the tempo of the game, which continued to see aggressive, impassioned performances from both sides.
First blood went to Coventry, when their inside centre Ollie Kitto found his way through the Warwick defence to dance over the line and put his side in front. To add insult to injury, Kitto then proceeded to smash the conversion through the posts, giving his team a 7-0 grip on the game.
Warwick, evidently riled by conceding the game’s first points, struck back immediately. After the ball spilled from a messy ruck, simple hands down the Warwick attacking line put the Warwick captain Ed Wilkinson onto the scoreboard with Warwick’s opening points. One failed conversion attempt later and Warwick were back within two points of their rivals.
The greasy playing surface and weather were taking a visible toll on the quality of play
The rest of the first half was littered with line breaks from both sides, each one shut down by a last-ditch covering tackle or wasted by a knock-on from the ball carrier. The greasy playing surface and weather were taking a visible toll on the quality of play, and, after a little bit of handbags after a tackle into touch, both teams seemed relieved when the referee’s whistle blew to signal half-time.
The second half began with more points on the scoreboard for Coventry, as Kitto made a break to score under the posts, before converting his own try in what was becoming something of a regular occurrence. After forming a solid foundation for his university – now leading their Russell group counterparts 14-5 – Kitto then took a leave of absence for 10 minutes after flooring a Warwick player with a dangerous tackle, much to the joy of Warwick’s supporters.
Warwick pressed their advantage when their number 8, Alex Folwell, grounded the ball after a fantastic break through a hectic Coventry defence by Tom Miles. The conversion was sent wide by Harry Kernick, but Warwick were back in the game: 14-10.
Last year’s winners continued to pile the pressure on Coventry, eventually being awarded a penalty 10m off the Coventry line when their forwards stood up in the scrum. A quick tap was on the cards and, after a strong drive, Folwell crossed the whitewash for a second time to give Warwick the lead for the first time in the match. Another conversion failed to meet the target but it didn’t matter – Coventry now trailed Warwick 14-15.
Now it was time for the final push for the match: Coventry playing for pride, Warwick playing simply to add to the chasm on the Varsity scoreboard. Both teams threw everything they had left into an opportunity to score some points.
Warwick were penalised for not rolling away at a breakdown just inside their own 22, directly in front of the posts. Coventry indicated that they’d take an attempt at goal. Their number 12 stepped up and powered the ball home. Ollie Kitto 17, Warwick University 15.