On a cold Tuesday afternoon, Magdalen took on Lady Margaret Hall in the second round of this year’s College Rugby Cuppers competition. Going into the game Magdalen, who this season narrowly avoided relegation from the college premier division, were narrow favourites against a revitalised LMH team who at the end of the season won promotion to the rugby second division. In the end the pundits were proved right and the strong Magdalen outfit came out on top. The passionate LMH team failing to progress any further in the competition, going down 26-5.
The early exchanges of the match were riddled with errors as both teams created good opportunities but then wasted them with knock-ons or by giving away cheap turnovers. Indeed, with ten minutes gone on the clock, the Magdalen winger Andy Johnson found himself only inches away from opening the scoring but knocked the ball on after a fairly tame tackle against him.
Magdalen then began to pile the pressure on LMH with their fly half, Henry Waite, causing a number of problems for the LMH defence with great kicking and quick passing. Yet the LMH defence seemed to be holding strong, with their forwards definitely winning the physical battle; with strong hand-offs from the number 8 Andrew Joseph frequently giving LMH an attacking platform and with a number of turnovers in the line-outs and scrums going to LMH. After another good scrum by LMH inside their own twenty-two, the Magdalen flanker went for an optimistic run to the try line. With three unlikely missed tackles from the LMH defence, the flanker touched-down for the first try of the game. An excellent conversion by Waite then gave Magdalen a 7-0 lead.
‘With LMH dropping their heads, Magdalen put the result beyond doubt’
This was how the score stayed for the rest of the first half, but the half-time team talks both captains must have been talking of victory and battling to a hard earned place in the next round. After only one minute of the second half, however, LMH found themselves 14-0 down. After a good kick-off, the LMH number 8 Joseph, dropped his attempted catch and, from the resulting Magdalen scrum, Waite played an excellent pass to give his side an overlap out wide. This left the centre Charles Bailey to touch down in the corner and extend his team’s lead. Then, forced to drop kick his conversions due to the lack of a kicking tee, Waite sublimely secured the extra two points with a fantastic drop kick through the middle of the sticks.
With LMH dropping their heads, Magdalen then began to pile on the pressure and put the result beyond doubt. After another good kick from Waite pinned LMH in their own twenty-two the pressure mounted; three lineouts in quick succession meant Magdalen threatened to once again break through the LMH defence. This they did, when the large lock Nick Jacques battered his way through two tackles to score his team’s third try despite a big hit from LMH hooker Ibbetson- Price on the try line. Waite then extended his side’s lead with another great drop kick conversion, making it 21-0.
With victory for Magdalen seemingly a foregone conclusion, their standard of rugby went up a level and they began to punish their opponents. After a great kick from Waite actually hit the corner flag, Magdalen pinned LMH in their twenty-two again. From a good turnover by the Magdalen forwards, the backs then spread the ball wide with a lovely move, allowing the winger Johnson to score a fourth try. So with only twenty minutes gone in the second half, Magdalen had assured their place in the quarter finals of cuppers.
However, determined to avoid a whitewash, LMH began pushing their opponents back in search of some sort of consolation. This consolation came with the last move of the game when their huge lock Chris Sandom thundered through the Magdalen defence to score. It was nothing less than LMH deserved and it was fitting that it was a forward who got the try, for the LMH pack had worked tirelessly all game and often seemed superior to their opposite numbers. In the end, however, the superior talent in the Magdalen backs proved decisive and sent Magdalen through to the quarter finals.