MMU Rugby have ended their 17-year wait for Varsity victory

The Varsity rugby game between Manchester Metropolitan University (MMU) and the University of Manchester (UoM) was played on Friday evening. It has been an event that was usually dominated by UoM victories over the last two decades. That all changed on Friday. 

The Manchester Rugby Varsity returned after a two-year break and the event consisted of two games. One played between the universities Women’s teams and the other the Men’s teams.

Starting the event was the Women’s games. Unfortunately for the MMU Women they came up against a very well drilled and organised UoM team who subsequently ran out winners on the night.

MMU started strongly and controlled the play for the opening 10 minutes but UoM showed their strength and went on to score five tries before half-time. Both teams headed for the tunnel with UoM on top and leading 27-0 at the half.

The second half added more hope for MMU with them getting on the scoresheet early through Captain Amy Clarke. The conversion was added by Sport Scholar Caoimhe Morris and the score was 34-7 after 46 minutes. MMU continued to look to get back into the game through some good play but the UoM defence was too strong for MMU. UoM showed their superiority and heaped on the pressure and added another six tries before MMU got a consolidation try before the final whistle.

Despite being disappointed by the result MMU held their heads up and congratulated their opponents on the win before heading down the tunnel.

Final Score: UoM 72 – 12 MMU

As the Men’s teams began warming up and with the AJ Bell stadium quickly beginning to fill with supporters you could feel a sense of excitement around the stands as the hotly anticipated game was moments away from kick off.

Both sets of fans were in fine voice and let out thunderous roars as both MMU and UoM took to the field for the events showdown finale.

MMU kicked off and started the game well as they put UoM under pressure early on. After regaining and controlling possession in UoM’s 22 for the majority of the first 10 minutes they were rewarded with a try in the corner. MMU Sport Scholar Connor Wilkinson scored the opening try. The conversion was missed but MMU had the advantage. 5-0. The noise from the fans was phenomenal as MMU looked to push on.

However, an excellent restart from UoM put MMU under pressure shortly after they opened up the scoring. Some good recycling of the ball meant UoM equalled the scoring within minutes. Conversion missed and the score was 5-5.

The remainder of the first half was played with MMU controlling the game in the middle of the park and they entered the changing rooms at half-time the happier of the two sides.

Now attacking in front of their own fans, MMU were clearly feeling comfortable and came out firing in the second half. Constant MMU pressure was only held back by a strong UoM defence. This all changed halfway through the second half when MMU burst through UoM's defensive line to retake the lead. What turned out to be the deciding try and also second of the game for Connor Wilkinson, MMU were now leading 10-5 with 25 minutes to go.

With 15 minutes to go UoM were reduced to 14 as their number 8 received a yellow card. MMU piled on the pressure but had two tries disallowed in short succession. When UoM returned to full strength they launched a valiant comeback attempt but a well organised MMU defence resisted the UoM attack.

As the ball went dead and the referee blew the whistle to signal the end of the game, the stand erupted. The 17-year wait for a Varsity victory had ended and the MMU fans were making themselves heard.

A pitch invasion followed and the celebrations with the MMU players continued for some time before fans dispersed. Both teams congratulated each other before heading down the tunnel to their respective changing rooms.

Full Time: MMU 10 – 5 UoM

Following the game, I had a moment to talk with MMU coach Rob Jones, “I’m feeling great but now my focus is on BUCS. Not taking anything away from Varsity, it’s great for the university and great for bragging rights in the city,” he said.

“Defeating a university two leagues above us just shows really the improvement and development we’ve made. We’ve just annihilated a team above us in BUCS so promotion this season is definitely the goal.”

I also managed to chat with try scorer Connor Wilkinson and asked how he was feeling following the victory,

“I’m just over the moon. I can’t describe the feeling. The team pulled through and was amazing. Everybody was just absolutely amazing today,” he told me.

After a weekend of celebrating the historic victory I caught up with Vice Captain Dafydd Rees,

"I can't really sum up how I felt at the final whistle, there were so many feelings going around. Just watching and waiting for the last ten minutes when they were pressing hard was one of the most nerve-racking things I've done,” he said.

“The reception at the stadium and back at the Union was immense and something I will never forget and the whole team are very thankful for everyone who turned up as they all had a part to play in the huge history-making game,”

“Being a part of the winning team was incredible, considering they are 2 leagues above us, every single player played past their expectations. It's something we will never forget and is the highlight of my university life so far,

“I have to congratulate UoM on their fight back and persistent defence. They were a brilliant sport and hopefully we can keep this varsity going for year to come,” he added.

Before leaving the AJ Bell I had a chance to talk to University of Manchester’s Rugby Chairman, Jos Edwards and Captain, Alfie Dudman Jones.

I asked how they were felt UoM had played in the close game:

“We didn’t perform as well as we could have done but we’ll try and move forward from here. We have Edinburgh next week in the league so take some positives and move on from there,” Alfie Dudman Jones said.

Jos Edwards, “I think in stages we looked very good and especially when he had ball and momentum. When we entered MMU’s scoring zone we looked good and finished our chances. But the problem is we didn’t have enough ball and when you don’t have enough ball you can’t win rugby games.”

Both Alfie and Jos had a lot of praise for their fans and wanted to say thank you for the great support they gave on Friday evening.

The attention for MMU Rugby now turns its head to promotion in BUCS. MMU start their league campaign against UCLAN at home on Wednesday afternoon. The game kicks off at 5pm at Platt Lane Complex.