On Saturday afternoon, the Edinburgh University 1st Rugby XI came to St. Andrews to face the Saints in the eagerly awaited varsity encounter. It was an electrifying spectacle, steeped in tradition and rivalry between these two storied institutions. Edinburgh University RFC and the University of St. Andrews RFC hold esteemed positions as two of the world’s most ancient rugby clubs, second in seniority only to the Edinburgh Academical FC in Scotland. The rivalry between Edinburgh and St. Andrews dates back to the 1860s, though it has not been a regular fixture throughout its history.
The Scottish Universities Varsity Championship witnessed increased competitiveness in the 1990s, resulting in the frequent changing of hands for the cup. In 2003, Edinburgh clinched the championship for the first time in a decade and managed to retain it for the following three seasons, albeit through fierce contests with St. Andrews. After enduring two challenging seasons, Edinburgh reclaimed the championship title for the 2010-2011 season, earning promotion from the Scottish Conference to the BUCS Premier North B league.
As the captain of Edinburgh’s 1XV, Fin Stewart expressed his anticipation for his final varsity match. He acknowledged the challenge posed by the formidable St. Andrews side. ‘Going into my final varsity game for Edinburgh is an exciting prospect and it’s a great day for everyone involved,’ he said. He reflected on their recent tough matches and the team’s dedication to delivering a stellar performance. ‘We’ve had a tough set of results the last couple of years against a strong St. Andrews side, but we’ve worked hard throughout pre-season to ensure that we can give our best performance on the day.’ The Saints were aiming for their third consecutive varsity victory, generating immense excitement within their ranks after they emerged triumphant in the last encounter, winning 24-14 away at Edinburgh last year.
The Saints started on the front foot and quickly got on the scoreboard after 120 seconds after Ross Cadzow converted a penalty. Positivity for St. Andrews was quickly dampened when Second Row Oli Calevert-Evers, St. Andrews’ South African Rugby Scholar, was forced off the pitch after rolling his ankle in an unfortunate collision. With Calevert-Evers off the pitch, Edinburgh were growing in confidence and the team in green managed to get the first try on the board after Vice-Captain Hal Little scored with Luke Armstrong managing to successfully convert, leaving the Saints 3-7 down. Edinburgh further extended their lead with another quick try after Man of the Match Hugo Flinn scored a try, leaving the Saints behind by 9. St. Andrews had to be resilient in defence after a period of sustained pressure by Edinburgh with Adam Ivins making a vital try-saving tackle down the wing after an explosive run by Daniel Odejinmi. Edinburgh converted a penalty thanks to another Armstrong kick, so the score was 3-15 heading into the break with the Saints having much work to do. Captain John Paterson was disappointed to get a yellow card, having to leave the field for ten minutes of play, and Edinburgh managed to exploit the 14 men with a converted try and scored, making the score 3-22. Hugo Flinn scored another fantastic try which left the Saints 3-29 down. The game however was not over, and the Saints made what was simply an incredible comeback. Hal Little was sin-binned after collapsing a maul and Ben Murrin capitalised with a try, which Cadzow converted. The score was 29-10 and straight from the restart, St. Andrews had the momentum, with the home crowd firmly on their side. Adam Ivins dodged past the Edinburgh line, resulting in Matthew Gingel scoring a try out on the wing. An impressive conversion by Saints Vice Captain Ross Cadzow left the scoreboard 29-17, with only 12 points between the two sides. Paterson showed his leadership by scoring another try, closing the gap to Edinburgh again in the closing ten minutes of the game. Cadzow again converted a simple kick leaving the score 32-24, within one try off stealing the victory from Edinburgh. It was a tantalising end to a brilliant match with the final score 32-29 to Edinburgh.
Speaking to The Saint after the game, Dave Morris, Head of St. Andrew’s Men’s Performance Rugby, reflected that he thought it was ‘a really good advert for Scottish student rugby and the way that we came back into the game was so impressive.’ The turnaround in the second half was so admirable and the team did the University proud.
Up the Saints!