Unbeaten run now at an end.
Durham University 20 UWE Hartpury 45 DURHAM University's twoyear unbeaten run against student opposition came to an abrupt end as they relinquished their British Universities and Colleges Sports Cup.
The Palatinates - cup holders and twotime league champions going into yesterday's final at Rugby HQ - were outmuscled by an organised XV from Hartpury in Gloucestershire, playing under the University of the West of England banner. Durham brought by far the greater width and pace to the game against a Hartpury team lacking nothing in forward size or set-piece organisation, but it was not enough as the heavier of the two packs gradually wore the champions down.
England Students fly-half Mike Ward was unlucky not to open the Durham scoring when a straightforward penalty attempt saw the ball roll off the kicking tee just a fraction before the strike, and his side trailed within a minute through Craig Jackson's penalty at the other end.
The full-back added a second shortly after, but the tide looked to be turning Durham's way when UWE lock Ben Chan was sin-binned for pulling down a maul. The resulting penalty saw them gamble on an attacking line-out, and impressive Scotland Under-20s flanker Duncan Finnie crossed over for a try on the left.
Durham's pace and willingness to change the point of attack seemed the principle style differential as they sought out space rather than contact, and they nosed ahead for the first and only time on the half-hour as Ward enjoyed better fortune with his second penalty.
Straight from the restart they were back behind as left-wing Ian Clark raced in for UWE's opening try, quickly followed by a second from a grubber in behind the defence for a 20-8 half-time lead.
Even at 12 points down Durham's spirit of adventure did not diminish, but when a scrum wheel five metres from their own line allowed flanker Tom Ailes to pick up and score the simplest of tries, their task became an impossible one.
Jackson's third and fourth penalties added even further daylight for a 25-point deficit going into the final quarter, and even with Durham's proven powers of recovery it was far too big an ask.
Brad Field scored a cruel fourth try after going the length from an interception, but even with the result well beyond doubt the Palatinates spent the bulk of the remaining minutes on the offensive. UWE prop Ricky Jano sat out the closing stages in the sin-bin after pulling down one of many Durham mauls, and the ensuing line-out forced referee Terry Hall to award a penalty try from yet another infringement. UWE crossed for a fifth touch-down when replacement Grant Hancox squirmed over down the left, but Durham had the final say with replacement Nick Haigh scoring with the very last play after sustained attacking pressure.
Durham director of rugby Alex Keay admitted: "We just didn't get going at all. I don't know if the occasion got to us too much, or not enough, but it just didn't happen.
"We kept battling towards the end, but we should never have allowed ourselves to be put in that position. After two years unbeaten we can't start saying everything has gone wrong because we lost a single game and it has really been an amazing run. All we can do is applaud Hartpury for their win, go back to the drawing board ourselves and work out how we can be better next season. It didn't happen for us yesterday, but it is finished now and we move on."
Elsewhere on a busy day of student rugby a repeat of the main men's final saw a different outcome at nearby Richmond RFC as Durham University's 2nd XV beat UWE Hartpury 31-27 to win the reserve competition, while Newcastle University's Women's side beat University College London 19-10 to lift the secondtier BUCS Trophy.
MATCH FACTS DURHAM UNIVERSITY: S Hammersley, S Rupar, T Shiel, S Gahan, D Haigh, M Ward, A McCulla; J Bayford (captain), F Stonell, A Carson, J Beaumont, M Steele, J Pattinson, D Finnie, H Collins.
Scorers - Tries: D Finnie, Penalty try, N Haigh, Conversions: S Watkinson. Penalties: M Ward.
UWE HARTPURY: C Jackson, P Jarvis, J Hayes, S Rodwell, I Clark, L Gallaher, B Field; R Cano, R Townsend, C Thorne, B Chan, H Casson, T Ailes, M Craven, B Walker (captain).
Sin-bin: B Chan (18 mins), R Cano (70). Scorers - Tries: I Clark 2, T Ailes, B Field, G Hancox. Conversions: C Jackson 4. Penalties: C Jackson 4.
Referee: T Hall.
ALL OVER Durham University, in purple, found University of the West of England tough opponents at Twickenham yesterday PICTURE: Andrew Bennison of Yoursportsphoto