It would be in front of a sold-out Sandy Park crowd that Exeter would face Durham to put behind them the varsity loss 12 months ago. Over 4,000 fans brought the noise as the teams ran out to start a tantalising match.
Early on, the Exeter XV would suffer from ill-discipline to gift Durham some real attacking chances and the opportunity to go ahead first. With penalties flying, Durham took the lead with a Cal Grieve boot. Nonetheless, some incredible scramble defence from the hosts held the score line within Exeter’s grasp in the build-up to half-time.
It was then time for Durham veteran winger Paul Brown to take centre stage, beating two Exeter defenders showcasing his speed and change of direction to finish in the corner with a great individual try. Exeter, now down by two scores, needed to respond before half-time.
Exeter, now down by two scores, needed to respond before half-time.
Drawing a penalty within the Durham 22, Exeter decided to go for glory, kicking into the corner for the lineout. With a maul that made decent ground, out emerged fan-favourite, Jared Williams, who drove over the line to score.
Half-time score: University of Exeter 5 – 10 Durham University
Perhaps not living up to previous performances in the first half, Exeter were clearly determined to come out a different side in the second half. Some breaks from both sides, however, kept the score unchanged and it was enticingly down to the final 25 minutes.
Piling on the pressure within the Durham 22, and with the whole of Sandy Park behind them, Exeter looked dangerous. It was French fly-half Lucas Mignot who broke the Durham lines with a dummy and then offloaded to the winger Ed Volley who split the defence and went over under the posts for a game-changing seven points as Exeter took the lead for the first time.
Winger Ed Volley went over under the posts for a game-changing seven points as Exeter took the lead for the first time.
Haunted by the 6’7” winger’s score, Durham appeared rattled, and their discipline started to slip. Penalties took Exeter into the Durham 22 once more, and with an unstoppable driving maul, hooker Joe Vajner scored his first.
Taking the game upon himself, however, Durham’s Paul Brown was not ready to let his team fall away, and with another great individual finish, the winger drew the scores close heading into the closing minutes. Brown, though, could not do it all by himself, as the Exeter forwards began dominating and drawing penalties to earn great field position once more. Flanker Jack Forsythe, later announced Man of the Match, played a crucial role in the home side’s late breakdown advantage.
Another driving maul gave Joe Vajner his second try and sealed the win for Exeter, claiming all 5 points on offer.
Full-time score: University of Exeter 24 – 15 Durham University
With a varsity win cemented, a flying start to the 2023 season extended the winning run to 12 in BUCS Super Rugby and puts Exeter 4 points clear over Loughborough at the summit of the table. Sandy Park once again played host to an incredible fixture, and Exeter will look to continue their run of form in Cardiff next week.