by Harry Yates & Barbara Sike
A thrilling clash on the return of the universities fixture between England Students and France Universities on April 22 at the home of Newcastle Falcons saw the home side clinch the victory 16-15.
Dubbed “Le Crunch” by the French, this year’s fixture was held at Kingston Park, with the uncommon North-Eastern sun shining down on the English and French students as they stepped onto the field. The rivalry did not disappoint: spectators were left at the edge of their seats with the score kept tight until the last minute when England number 10, Charlie Titcombe edged the win with an outrageous penalty kick beyond the halfway line.
The England Students squad spent just 4 short days preparing for the game in their training camps where players – most of whom played for rival teams throughout the season in the BUCS Super Rugby league - quickly became accustomed to their new teammates. Between tough training sessions, recovery work and juggling their studies, players found creative ways to bond through extravagant games like jellybean golf where prop forward Matty Woodward reigned victorious, (redeeming himself after the less successful quick-cricket.)
The quality of rugby played was of the highest standard in university rugby, 5 of the players had won the Super BUCS league title with Durham University, and 3 of the England Students won the BUCS Championship with Exeter university against their Durham opponents, this removed the fun element in quick cricket, turning it into a competitive rivalry.
Head Coach, Darren Fearn led the team from the front, acquiring Newcastle Falcons legend Mark Wilson as an assistant coach alongside Mark Matzopoulos and Gareth Nesbit who created a professional yet enjoyable culture in camp. Special mentions are in order for the Management Staff, including Team Managers Andrew Kennedy and Paul Baty (who last year won the Vaughan Parry Williams Award at the University Rugby Awards), Medical Team Stephen Rowell and Ralph Smith, S&C Coach Jamie Knight and match-day manager, Gareth Bowden.