The Season To Remember
MMU Men’s Rugby Union Place Second in the BUCS Prep North 2 League for 2022/23 Season Behind Scottish Rivals Strathclyde
13 matches. Eight opponents. Eight wins, four losses, one draw. Most will remember the 2022/23 season as the year MMU narrowly missed out on promotion, placing second in the BUCS Premier North 2 league, two points behind Scottish rivals Strathclyde; a great achievement. But those involved will remember this season for what it really was – a year in which a culmination of international, first-year and senior players, overcame countless injuries, cancellations and personal issues to remain unbeaten on home turf and finished only two points behind the best team in their league.
Before their final training session ahead of their season finale against Doncaster, when asked about his first season at MMU, first-year student Max van Hilst said: “I think it’s gone well, getting to know everyone – the team made me feel at home and it’s been a good season.” The young Dutchman has been a perfect example of the depth and integration of diversity in this year’s ‘performance squad’, bringing over some silky skills from his time in the Netherlands national rugby team.
Incidentally, MMU started their pre-season training at Rugby Nederlands training grounds back in September 2022, and rounded that out with a match against Max’s home team, Netherlands U20s. Before the game, Vice-Captain Tom Charsley-Evans said in an interview: “A result would be nice but it’s the first game of the season, we’ve got new lads playing their first game for the club, so just looking to really help bond with the group and grow until the season starts.”
Despite the disappointing 12-20 result, their time away not only provided a baseline for this new team to develop from, but also a chance to get to know each other and gel together as a squad. When asked what he thought of the Amsterdam tour, Head of MMU Rugby Rob Jones said: “What an experience for the boys; to come over and experience a different culture, to play against a country with a different playing style – just a brilliant experience to be together for four days.”
The benefits of Jones’ intense pre-season programme were evident as MMU went on to win four of their first five league matches, which included beating league winners Strathclyde at home. An achievement the magnitude of which was unknown to all at that point in the season; it was at this point that Team #BlOrange are feeling invincible, and that league title is starting to look within reach for the first time in since their promotion to BUCS Prem North in March 2020.
When looking at the results of all 13 league games MMU played this season, one could liken their journey to crossing a mountain range, and their victory in the fifth game against was the first summit, after which their aspirations for promotion looked like they would have to wait for another year. The steep descent down the other side of the mountain came in MMU’s heaviest loss of the season against a vengeful Strathclyde team on home turf; 40 points to a measly 7.
After the loss, Rob Jones spoke solemnly in an interview and said: “Well done to Strath, they did to us what we did to them at our place […] we were second best in every department today and that’s tough to take – the lads are gutted.” At that point in the season, Jones spent almost 4 months with this squad, and even longer with some of the seniors, and built a special coach-player relationship with them, so this heart-breaking defeat so far away from home laid just as heavily on him as it did the boys.
And just to add salt to their wounds, MMU travelled to Yarnbury RFC the following week to play Leeds Beckett with hopes of redemption, only to lose to them too, 26-19. It was these two losses that would later turn out to be the difference between the league title and second place in the BUCS Premier North 2 league.
But from the depths of double defeat, and after a well-earned Christmas break, MMU were defiant in their efforts to avoid losing any of their remaining five games. First, Bishop Burton at home, victory for MMU with a scoreline of 22-18, to which Number 8 Greg Morgan said in interview: “Brilliant start from the boys after the way we played [last game]. I think we played well; everything came in from training and produced on game day so [I’m] buzzing for the boys.”
It was only St. Andrews that came close to breaking MMU’s stride, with whom MMU drew 20-20; perhaps it was the 200-mile coach journey that prevented our lads from securing a second victory. Still, the final away day of the 2022/23 season was one to remember and celebrations ensued later that evening and on the coach journey back.
As for the final three games, it was the boys in Blue and Orange that prevailed victorious against Sheffield, Leeds Beckett, and Doncaster, securing their unbeaten record for home games that season. MMU had already beaten Sheffield once this season, 21-17, but did so this time in a far more convincingly with a final score of 54-31. As for Leeds Beckett, MMU had a 26-19 defeat to rectify, and did so in spectacular fashion with another 50+ point victory. Over 100 points in two games was no small feat, but they wouldn’t stop there.
As the season was now drawing to a close, whispers of an opportunity to take the glory from league leaders Strathclyde, who had two games left, spread around Platt Lane. If MMU beat Doncaster and earned the maximum five points, and Strath earn less than four in their games, MMU would win the league by one point.
Fast forward to half time against Doncaster, MMU are winning 12-7 with the title still in sight when Jones breaks the bad news: Stathclyde have hammered their opponents, St Andrews, 55-12; no league title for MMU.
But, now fuelled by envious rage at their broken dreams of sweet, sweet promotion, MMU pressed on and put another 14 points on Doncaster, finishing the game 26-24 and securing second place. In a post-match interview, Captain Alex Brooks said: “It is what it is; [if] a few other games went our way maybe it would have been in a different position but that’s rugby.”
So, after a rollercoaster ride of a season, the last for many instrumental players, 1st team prop Theo Hulbert, standing next to his captain and long-time friend, spoke from the heart on behalf of all the Blorange boys: “Hell of a year – highest finish that we’ve both had in four years so we can just take that as what it is: second place it’s not the worst it’s not the end of the world, we’ll go again. We’re only losing five lads for next year so we can just carry on the performances for next year. It’s been a great four years, [I’ve] made some really good mates, good memories […] and just for any lads that are thinking of coming down, just come – it’ll be the best three-four years of your life and if you’re playing with your mates every week and training with your mates, you’ll just have a good time.”
A season to remember for all involved, and a pleasure to behold. The growth and development of a group of lads, some hailing from nations far away and others from very close to home, some just starting their MMU Rugby career, and others finishing it, was truly special and a testament to the values of the best game in the world. Up the Blorange.