Teddy Hall might say they were robbed of victory; Saints will argue they earned it through dogged belief. But as Doran’s 83rd minute conversion struck the post, everyone was in agreement; they had just witnessed the most dramatic final in the tournament’s history.
Starting the season in Division 3, a meteoric rise saw Saints promoted to ivision 1. Teddy Hall is a giant of the college game, their appearance in the final becoming a formality – for Saints it was the stuff of dreams. Having put an end to an incredible streak of cuppers victories once before in their 1998 victory, it was only fitting that Saints should rise again to challenge Teddy Hall’s dominance.
Despite a pack reinforced by 4 Blues, The Hall’s physicality from the onset pinned Saints in their own 22. Littlejohns caused havoc in the scrum at prop, and Bagley managed to steal almost every Saints lineout. With no set piece, Saints were forced to defend for the majority of the first half. Even with an injury to seasoned hooker Will Darby, the Hall’s forwards continued to dominate.
Nevertheless, Saints gave nothing away, with monstrous tackles from man-of-the-match Nick Gardner. Discipline and determination saw forays into the Hall’s 22; an inspired pass from the back of Matt Booth’s hand almost saw Balai through to the opening try. Instead, the score came from Teddy Hall’s Oscar Valance, who punched a hole through the defence on the stroke of halftime. Robert Humphries added the extras: 7-0 to the Hall.
As play resumed, it was clear Saints had every intention of staying in the game. Powerful running from Oboh took them to the Hall’s 5 metre line, before captain Phil Lucas crashed over for his 12th try of the season. Doran slotted the conversion to level the scores. Teddy Hall rallied with unstoppable force, proving too strong and organised for the Saints’ defence. A classy move ended with Adams Cairns scoring in the corner; an unsuccessful conversion left the scores at 12-7 to Teddy Hall.
Now it was Teddy Hall’s turn to defend as Saints attacked with all their might. A tactical sub between Rickner and Scott added stability to the scrum, and a nifty break from Stockwell almost tied the scores. Teddy Hall were heroic in the tackle, causing Phil Lucas to fumble over the try line – victory seemed to slip from the Saints’ grasp. Teddy Hall sensed a historic win, sealing the hat-trick and cementing their squad amongst college rugby legend.
To the dismay of a college outplayed and outmuscled, the referee signalled the last play whilst Teddy Hall were in possession. The clicheÌ ‘never-say-die’ springs to mind, as both sides put their bodies on the line, diving into rucks and tackles alike. In a dramatic twist of fate, an eleventh-hour tackle from Lucas caused the ball to be dropped moments before it could be kicked out. Teddy Hall failed to react, and the ball was shovelled to James Baker, who showed unshakeable nerve to score in the corner. Mi- raculously, the score was 12-12.
Paddy Doran, Saints Player of the Season, gathered his breath. As he gauged the distance and angle of the difficult kick, the stadium was silent, struck dumb by shock more than anything else. This reporter took the trouble to discover what was on his mind: “I was fucking scared”. The crowd watched with bated breath as the ball bounced in off the post: a moment of bewilderment, and then the pitch was flooded, as were the eyes of stunned Lucas.
The final score was as wonderful as it was cruel, as deserved as it was unwarranted. However Phil Lucas’ thoughts sum it all up: “they had us at the set piece, and played some great rugby, but grit was the name of the game on Friday night”.
Meanwhile, Lincoln proved too strong for Jesus in the Turl Street battle for the Plate, consigning Jesus to their third straight defeat in a Cuppers final.