Battle of the Birds: Derwent RUFC hold onto victory after James fightback

Eddie Atkinson reports from the Battle of the Birds college varsity match between Derwent and James men's rugby teams

(Image: Eddie Atkinson)

The Battle of the Birds clash between Derwent and James Men’s Rugby clubs started scrappily and seemed to be headed towards a comfortable Derwent win. This was before a strong fightback from James in the second half which left them moments away from an impressive comeback victory.

22 Acres played host to a tough-fought affair played in drizzly and muddy conditions, with the presence of a sizeable crowd of supporters, and YSTV cameras dotted along the touchline adding to the sense of occasion.

Derwent (their shirts blue and maroon squares) kicked off to James (in black and white stripes), and there was an early sign that the weather would have an impact on the game as a kick was immediately fumbled forward in an attempted catch.

Derwent dominated early proceedings and made their possession count 5 minutes in, with no. 8 T. Greenway breaking from a post-lineout maul about 5 metres out to smash through for a try converted without fuss.

Derwent continued to show prowess over the next 20 minutes but struggled to add to the score line, with a number of nearly moments not quite coming off, including a great dummy that almost put them through but was followed by a pass that the winger couldn’t quite reel in the 16th minute, and a James knock-on about 4 metres from their own try line which they couldn’t capitalise on.

There was real ambition to Derwent’s play which they could have eventually regretted, opting to tap and go on a number of occasions instead of kicking for goal. 

James really struggled to gather any attacking momentum in the opening, not managing to spend any large amount of time in the Derwent half, until they broke through around the 24-minute mark but conceded a penalty fairly soon after.

The rest of the half proceeded fairly quietly, with notable highlights being some confusion over when you were allowed to call a mark, and a James kick into the crowd that prompted one of the players to cheekily check on the spectators’ welfare.

The 39th minute finally saw Derwent add to their lead with the first penalty of the game right in front of the posts which was routinely converted by no.10 O. Mexome and left the half-time score at 10-0, with the blue and maroon of Derwent looking fairly comfortable.

James came out in the second half with much greater confidence, exemplified from the outset by a strong tackle when chasing the kick-off.

It did not take long for their new-found attacking momentum to pay off; a tidy threaded grubber kick nearly found a James winger but was recovered by the Derwent defence in the 49th minute.

But there was to be no reprieve as two minutes later a Derwent defender attempted a flying leap to collect a James kick to the corner but failed to keep hold of the ball. James were able to capitalise on his mistake to score the try and calmly convert to bring the scoreline to 10-7.

Derwent came back fighting, nearly scoring from a great kick to the wing that was collected cleanly, but the runner was tackled into touch just before the line.

This period of Derwent pressure could not stop James’ comeback however, as in the 58th minute the James no 12 T. Forsdick collected the ball on his own 22, effortlessly span through the Derwent line and ran almost three-quarters of the pitch, narrowly avoiding a tap tackle and tapping home under the posts to bring James into the lead (14-10 with the conversion).

Derwent tried to react quickly with a clever grounded kick-off that surprised their opponents and saw them gain possession immediately, but the ball was promptly ripped from them by a now-inspired James defence.

James seemed a different team as they began to dominate possession and looked the most likely to score again over the next 15 minutes or so as Derwent began to run out of time. They looked to add to their lead 73 minutes in with an ambitious kick for goal 10 metres into the Derwent half, but the effort was speculative and while it had the distance, it ended up wide of the posts.

Derwent took this opportunity to finally regain their attacking momentum, spending most of the rest of the game in possession and in the James half.

As time continued to slip away, Derwent drew closer and closer to the try-line but faced a resolute James defence.

When the final play was called Derwent were in possession around the 5 metre line, smashing into a wall of James bodies, and they continued to do so for almost 10 more minutes.

While James were tackling resolutely and defending spectacularly, they could not stop a series of advantages and penalties that allowed Derwent to continuously tap and go and target their line without fear of turnover.

This came to a head when a James player was sin-binned for a high tackle, leaving their defence a man down as they attempted to hold on for any sort of turnover which would let them end the game and claim a hard-fought victory.

Derwent were, however, relentless and eventually managed to pass the ball out to the corner and make use of the overlap to tap home to a huge celebration from the crowd, who had bunched around the try line as the Derwent pressure built. Their victory was capped off by an impressive conversion from near the touchline which meant the game finished 17-14. 

Derwent came away with a victory that was ultimately deserved given their dominance in the first half, but the way in which the match came to life in the second period and the dramatic manner in which it ended made it a Battle of the Birds fixture that will live long in the memory.

Derwent College RUFCJames College RUFC
17 (10)14 (0)
Tries: Greenway, Thornton Tries: Paxton, Forsdick
Conversions: Mexome (x2)Conversions: Lathangie (x2)
Penalty: Mexome