Selwyn edge out Hughes Hall in thrilling rugby Plate final

Rowan Beckett wins a line-out for Selwyn en route to a dramatic victory Image credit: Ted Mackey

A last-gasp conversion from fly-half Craig Peter Winfield was enough to secure the silverware for Selwyn, running out 30-28 victors in a highly entertaining encounter at Barton Road. 

Full-back Jack Fernon thought he had won it for Hughes Hall, running through under the posts to take the score to 28-27 with just five minutes left on the clock, yet Selwyn had other ideas. A probing restart and determined scrummaging forced a defensive error, resulting in a penalty just outside the 22. 

Bravely calling for the tee with the hopes of his team placed on his shoulders, Winfield calmly drilled his effort through the posts to send the large Selwyn contingent gathered on the sidelines into raptures. That the game finished in such dramatic circumstances bears testament to the attacking approach that both teams brought to the game, much to the delight of the 100-strong crowd who came to see the spectacle. 

Indeed, it was Selwyn — whose starting XV also featured several players from Peterhouse and Trinity Hall — who made the brighter start to the game, winning their own kick-off to put immediate pressure on the Hughes and St. Edmunds back line. Buoyed by this confident start, Selwyn came close to opening the scoring on several occasions, only to be frustrated by a combination of last-ditch tackles and handling errors at the crucial moment.

Unable to convert pressure into points, Selwyn gradually saw themselves pushed further back as Hughes began to get a foothold into the game. Exploiting the width of the pitch, Hughes looked ominous on the attack, their back line given too much time and space to charge at their Selwyn counterparts. The defence could not hold out for long, Ade Omisore using his pace and strength to break several tackles before offloading to his Eddies teammate Stefan Grossfurthner, who ran in under the posts to render the conversion a mere formality for Fraser Gillies.

Selwyn did not learn their lesson, however, with Omisore almost setting up Grossfurthner down the left in what would have been a repeat of their first move, yet on this occasion his pass was deemed to have been forward. In truth, Hughes could and potentially should have added to their score as the red wall found itself breached on several occasions in the next ten minutes. However, Selwyn held out, and then, against the run of play, found themselves back into it, a majestic offload from second-row George Cole setting up Edmund Coke to touch down in the corner.

They say you are at your most vulnerable when you have just scored, and indeed no sooner had Winfield missed the tricky conversion that the game entered a balmy ten-minute period, with four tries raining down in quick succession. First, an excellent run from Gillies set up Omisore, who was on hand to touch down under the posts and put clear daylight between the two teams at 14-5. Not to go down without a fight, Selwyn immediately reduced their arrears to four as scrum-half Charlie Saunders made a dash for the line following a lengthy phase of intense pressure in the scrum.

With the crowd struggling to take in the pace of events — not to mention the hapless sports reporter — Hughes then added a further chapter to the drama as Grossfurthner ran onto the ball at pace to record his second try of the game and his team's fourth.

If the script had been tampered with to this point, it was then well and truly torn to shreds as Cole caught the ball straight from the restart and shipped it out to Saunders, whose quick hands set up Rowan Beckett to bundle his way across the line. A measured conversion from Winfield then reduced the deficit to 21-17, followed immediately by the half-time whistle.

The break did little to slow proceedings, though, as within five minutes of the restart Selwyn took the lead for the first time. A characteristically deft cross-field kick from Winfield forced a defensive line-out from Hughes on their own five-metre line, which was expertly stolen by the Selwyn forwards. Unable to readjust quickly enough, Hughes found themselves outnumbered on the left, which centre Guy Birch exploited to devastating effect, cutting through the defence to score his first try in Selwyn colours. 

Before a shell-shocked Hughes had time to react, Selwyn were down the other end in pursuit of their fifth try of the game. Camped on the opposition try-line, Hughes held out for several minutes in a dogged display of defensive determination, yet eventually the pressure told as a quick succession of passes down the line enabled Coke to crash over for his second score of the game. 

As the game entered the last 20 minutes, the frenzied pace seemed to take its toll on the players. Both teams elected to make more and more substitutions, and further interruptions came about as cramp began to set in. However, the atmosphere was not to be dampened, with both sets of supporters in full voice to cheer their team on right up to the death. 

Perhaps in the knowledge that a converted try would be enough to secure the win, Hughes began to replicate their first-half form with a series of fine moves through the back line. The ever-dangerous Fernon evaded several tackles with his quick feet, offloading to Grossfurthner who seemed destined to score his hat-trick, only for a perfectly-timed Saunders tackle to spoil the party.  

Then ensued a tense ten-minute period on the Selwyn try-line during which Hughes threatened to score at any moment, only to be frustrated by last-gasp tackles and inopportune handling errors. Banging firmly on the proverbial door, Hughes finally forced it open with barely five minutes left on the clock as Grossfurthner this time turned provider, running through to release Fernon for a thoroughly deserved score right under the posts. 

However, it was not to be enough, as Winfield's penalty right at the death managed to snatch victory right from the jaws of defeat. Indeed, it turned out to be his last contribution, as a nasty injury forced him to limp off  just before time to a standing ovation from the ecstatic Selwyn supporters on the touchline.

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