A cold Wednesday afternoon at Bournbrook was the scene for the bottom-of-table clash between the University of Birmingham Rugby League 1st XIII against Oxford Brookes 1sts. Brookes entered this fixture ahead, sitting second last in the league on four points, and the Lions languishing even further behind on three. It was a relegation battle which neither team could afford to lose.
Right from the kick-off, Brookes appeared to have the upper hand, getting the ball deep into Lions’ territory. A penalty scrum had Birmingham on the back foot but a quick-thinking interception thanks to the rapid pace by UoB number 13 Oliver Raine, running from one 22 to the other, rapidly changed the momentum of the play into Birmingham’s favour. A period of sustained pressure came to nothing for Brum, and Brookes capitalised on the counter attack with their star performer number 4 diving to the left of the posts. 4-0. This was the first instance of the Lions showing their vulnerability to counter attacks. Tom Austin, Birmingham’s number 7, got Birmingham back into the game with a well-worked try. Emotions ran high with an unnecessary scuffle between Austin and his opposite number after the points were secured. 4-4. Big tackles and dropped catches ensued, the handling quality was poor throughout, but never more so than in the early stages of the first half, but Brookes number 4 managed to capitalise again, taking them to an 8-4 lead. A huge run from Birmingham number 3 Ed Young wowed the crowd as he took the team to the Brookes 5 metre line when he was forced out of bounds, but alas the drive came to nothing as a turnover in the scrum in favour of Brookes gave the ball away. Young had his revenge moments later however, bursting through the Brookes defensive line for what turned out to be a comfortable try and then followed up by another quick one – the only try to be converted for the lions. At half time the score was Birmingham on top by 14 to 8.
The second half was an all-round quieter affair, yet many points were scored. Just moments in, Brookes took advantage of the stoppage to Birmingham’s momentum, levelling the score to fourteen apiece. Brum bounced back with a well worked team try with a big run from Aaron Norman followed up by Harry Leek putting it down over the line. The wind carried the conversion wide, and the score was 18-14. The best try of the day was scored by Birmingham after that, as they took to the skies – the ball kicked over the heads of the defenders, then caught and scored in majestic fashion. Showing that this team, for all their poor handling and mistakes, has real class and potential – they must utilise this talent if they wish to venture out of the bottom two of the league. Another try scored by Norman and another soon after was the death knell for Brookes. They were 32-14 down with five minutes to go and a despondent picture. One last ditch attempt from Brookes got them into the twenties, but the game ended at 32-20, and rightly so.
— BurnFM Sport (@BurnFM_Sport) December 2, 2015
Birmingham were deserving winners of the match, but the quality was undeniably not up to the standard the team would want at this stage, some way into the season. Many passes were dropped, knock ons given and a very poor standard of kicking. When you consider that Birmingham lost what must have been about ten points on missed kicks, you can see clearly that games can be won and lost by such margins. Admittedly, the wind was fierce in parts, but the kicker made the same mistakes every time, showing an inability to adjust. That said, it was a solid team effort, and the try where the ball was kicked, caught and seized upon, demonstrated that this team has potential, but a great deal of inconsistency in their ranks. A win is a win however, and they are out of the loneliest position of the league, bumping Brookes into the bottom spot. They’re 4 points clear of next lowest Oxford, who have a game in hand, but they should be proud of a solid win today, and go on from here.