Having not won away from home since the last day of the 2017/18 season in Edinburgh, the Men’s Rugby 1st XV travelled up to Durham more in hope than expectation. However, the squad surprised even themselves with the quality of rugby they played, coming away with a well-fought 41-34 victory in the North A League against Durham’s 2nd XV.
In spite of the poor weather, the first half was a tight but nonetheless enjoyable game of rugby to watch. Birmingham struck the first blow when prop Will Lockhart-Smith capitalised on a mismatch on the short side for the first try of the game. Tighe Maxwell-Whiteley duly converted and the score was 7-0. In character with their resilient reputation, Durham responded with two tries of their own as their forward pack came to the forefront, bringing the score to 12-7. The away side responded strongly to this, and were eventually rewarded for their territorial dominance when Maxwell-Whiteley exploited space in the back field by putting in a lovely weighted kick that winger Ali Wealthall scooped up to dive in the corner. This drew the sides level and it remained tied as the half-time whistle blew.
Conditions worsened in the second period, but the quality of rugby on show only improved as almost immediately after kick-off UoB scored a wonderful try filled with offloads. Following no. 8 Will Onslow’s midfield break, Wealthall was the beneficiary as he grabbed his second try of the game. The bonus point try followed shortly after when Sunni Jardine made a break off of a loose ball and offloaded to back-rower Gruff Roberts to cross the line, extending Birmingham’s lead to 26-12. However, Durham refused to be written off, bouncing back with two tries of their own; the first an interception off of a Jardine pass, and the second following defensive errors on the left wing. This saw them take the lead with 20 minutes left to play. Birmingham showed great patience to wait for their next opportunity, and it came when substitute scrum-half Will Hardwick made a superb break from halfway but fell agonisingly short of the line. Patience is often rewarded though, and this proved to be true as the ball was recycled to Maxwell-Whiteley who made a pinpoint pass for winger Eddie Jenkinson to score. The away side were back in front and a further Maxwell-Whiteley penalty extended the lead to 34-27.
The final five mins was an enthralling spectacle. Disaster struck for Birmingham as a Hardwick box kick was charged down and Durham pounced to score to level the match. Nevertheless, the boys dug deep and had enough left in the tank to apply enough pressure to force a Durham error from the restart. This gave them an attacking platform, and after a few phases Jardine bundled his way over under the posts to score. With a successful conversion the lead was 41-34 with only a few minutes remaining. Despite a late barrage from Durham, Birmingham held firm to claim a precious and historic victory.
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