EURL 38–26 Loughborough
Exeter University’s Rugby League first team claimed their most valuable win of the season so far as they battled past in-form Loughborough to close the gap on their big rivals.
Heading into the game Exeter sat second bottom, while Loughborough were second from top, but from early on it was clear the visitors weren’t going to have it all their own way.
Well taken early tries from Joe Gill and Sam Spridell gave EURL a ten point lead, maintained after Alex Waring crossed following a Loughborough score.
Loughborough levelled with two tries ahead of the half time break, but shortly after the interval Exeter regained the lead through Ben Moore.
Loughborough hit back either side of Waring’s second try and a long range score from Joe Gill, and when they crossed again to peg the margin back to two points, Exeter were under enormous pressure.
But the hosts came through as Moore added his second and Dan Coughlan crossed on debut to seal a vital victory.
Fast start puts hosts in charge
Exeter, who had lost by over 70 points in half of their six meetings against Loughborough, took control early on with a disciplined start, dominating play in their opponents half.
As Loughborough were pushed further and further back, quick hands outside and a powerful finish from Gill was just reward for an excellent start.
And Exeter soon doubled their lead, a break up the left followed by a fine offload from Waring who fed Spridell for a try. Underneath the sticks, Spridell slotted the conversion.
Straight from the restart though, an Andrew Guest knock-on handed possession straight back to Loughborough, who took full advantage to narrow the gap to 10-4.
Very soon however, the ten point lead was restored, a contest for a beautifully weighted kick from Sam Spridell resulting in the ball landing in the grateful arms of Waring who made no mistake in finishing from close range. But as has so often been the case this season, Exeter couldn’t maintain their level into the second quarter as mistakes crept in.
In second quarters this season Exeter have an average scoreline of 15-0 in the opposition’s favour, and Loughborough cashed in as handling errors handed possession back before structural weaknesses in defence gave them opportunities.
Exeter lapses keep Loughborough in the hunt
When the visitors scored in the corner minutes before the end of the first half, their second try in a matter of minutes to draw level at 14-14 at the break. It was a frustrating way to end the half, but like their victory against Bath a fortnight ago, Exeter knew they were wearing the opposition down and holes would begin to appear in attack.
Indeed it was a gaping hole that allowed Ben Moore to snipe his side back into the lead from close range. He had tried unsuccessfully in the first half, but showed nous and composure to bury his way over.
Billy Franklin and Tom Braund’s relentless carrying, before superb distribution from Spridell and Finbar O’regan was allowing Exeter to go up the gears and they looked to be heading for victory when Waring burst over once again.
Exeter seemed to be taking their foot of the gas everytime they began to pull away though and Loughborough were back in touch as they went over in the corner. With attacking possession just one score down, Loughborough looked set to take the lead for the first time, but a knock-on in midfield was kicked along the floor all the way to the try line by Joe Gill.
That opened up a two score lead once again, but Loughborough again responded, this time a beautifully line in midfield allowing them to ghost through and peg Exeter back once again.
By now, there were tired bodies on both sides, but Exeter’s interchanges, led by the powerful Winston Murin, were able to inject some life back into proceedings, along with a monster tackle from Waring that lifted the team.
Though Spridell missed a kickable two pointer, from the resulting drop out, Exeter were back on the front foot and were soon deep in opposition territory. Another quick snipe saw Ben Moore go in for his second, and now Loughborough needed a converted scored for the draw.
It was Exeter who got that converted score, Coughlan finishing brilliantly to give Exeter their biggest lead in the match. And Spridell’s tough, but successful, conversion would be the final act of a thrilling game as Exeter moved within one win of Loughborough, with a game in hand over their rivals.
Exeter team: Andrew Guest, Alex Waring, Andy Cronin, Joe Gill, Matthew McFarland, Finbar O’Regan, Sam Spriddell, Thomas Braund, Ben Moore, Hugo Corbett, Ben Weaver, Isaac Lea, Billy Franklin
Subs: Nick Powell, Winston Murrin, Arthur Speak, Daniel Coughlan