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Edinburgh win the 2023 Men’s Scottish Varsity Match

The St Andrews team arrived at University Park looking to gain a third straight victory against The University of Edinburgh team in the Men’s Scottish Varsity Match. As the teams ran out together, flanked by the traditional piper, the  fans massed along the touchlines and championed by members of the rugby clubs were excited for an action-packed match!

Saints’ Ross Cadzow, getting the game started, kicked deep and left, allowing for the thunderous St Andrews chasing pack to force an Edinburgh lineout inside the 22; Liam Kerr, playing in his third varsity, rose tallest to claim the steal. In the resulting phase play Edinburgh gave away a penalty which Cadzow converted. 3-0 and a chorus of ‘Oh When the Saints’ echoed around the ground!

The home team enjoyed a period of sustained territorial advantage in the following ten minutes with notable touches from Andrew Nash and Fergus Cato, taking a good high ball and running strong lines respectively. However, a stubborn Edinburgh defence and some unfortunate crossing in a St Andrews maul meant that Edinburgh built their way back up the field. With this, Edinburgh put a number of phases together finding winger Daniel Odejinmi, who was engaged in a hard-fought contest with opposite man Matthew Cingel throughout the first half. The pressure told with Edinburgh back rower Hal Little crossing the line near the sticks to take a 7-3 lead. This pattern of play continued with Edinburgh gaining a penalty by standing off a St Andrews maul. An attack down the right-hand side of the pitch saw Edinburgh scrum half Hugo Flinn latch onto an inside ball and cross the line in the corner. The resultant conversion from Luke Armstrong fell short. 3-12.

The away side continued to pile on the pressure spending much of the rest of the first half in the St Andrews third of the pitch. The intensity of the St Andrews line-speed, spear-headed by the backrow of Paterson, McKay and Ragg, combined with some strong one on one tackles on the wings meant that a number of 5 metre attacks from Edinburgh were repelled. The Edinburgh onslaught continued, and St Andrews did well to get into the changing rooms at half time having only conceded an Armstrong penalty, leaving the score 3-15 to Edinburgh.

The whistle acted as an energising agent for the thousands of fans who thus thronged to the food and bar stalls. Attendance on the day was 2350, a sign of the popularity and uniqueness of the event the Varsity has become over the last decade for both universities.

St Andrews, looking to start the second half well, suffered an unfortunate loss early in the half with captain Paterson connecting with the Edinburgh blindside flankers head whilst he was falling as a result of a Hugg Ragg chop tackle. The significant mitigating factors meant that the sanction was deemed to be a yellow card. Edinburgh, attacking towards their fans, continued their first half form and scored two quick tries to extend their lead to 3-29. The Saints now needed to rally if they were going to swing the momentum.

Looking to the bench to change the tide St Andrews brought on Ben Murrin, Tom Regis, John Belcher-Heath and Josh Mauritzen in the forwards and David Macrae and Thomas Russell in the backs. With Paterson also returning to the field St Andrews rediscovered their form. After a number of penalties given away by Edinburgh in their twenty-two, culminating in a yellow card for try scorer Little, substitute prop Ben Murrin crossed the whitewash. Cadzow converted, and the cheers from the crowd highlighted the belief of all Saints, player and fans alike. 10-29.

After the restart and some resolute defensive work, the home side were able to work their way back up the field with Max Jackson, who replaced an injured Oli Calvert-Evers early on in the first half, and Tom Regis combining well in the contact area. Following a loose Edinburgh clearing kick, Saints fullback Adam Ivins, starting on the half-way line, was able to carve through the defensive line with one commentator describing it ‘like Bambi on speed’! Dave Macrae latching onto the offload was able to take it up to the try line before Cingel dived over on the right-hand touch line. The tough kick with wind against was converted by Cadzow. 17-29!

Whilst the time points conundrum was whirring through every mind at University Park, Regis was thinking clearly, presenting the ball to the Edinburgh fly half for every kick off such that as few seconds as possible could be wasted. After a clean exit by the Saints, Edinburgh looked to regain the territorial advantage. Alas, the figure of replacement Jackson rose high to charge down an attacking kick from Armstrong, with Regis and Mauritzen picking up the scraps and charging deep into the Edinburgh 22. The resultant period of pressure saw Edinburgh captain Finbar Stewart receive a yellow card, further intensifying the noise from the home crowd. From the penalty, captain John Paterson powered over the line. 24-29!

Momentum, firmly with St Andrews, was reversed when following the restart Edinburgh gained a kickable penalty which was duly converted by replacement half-back Nickalls. This took their lead out to over a converted try with less than five minutes to play. In keeping with the see-saw second half St Andrews were not yet done with Ivins drawing some more imaginative commentary (‘he could step you in a phone box that boy’) as he counter attacked. The forwards trucking it up to the five metre line then converted a driving maul with Cato heading over the line. This brought the Saints to within four points. 32-29!

A final break was made by St Andrews upon receiving the kick off however some robust ‘jackling’ work saw Edinburgh gain a penalty which they kicked out to seal victory. Scenes reminiscent of Saints fans of the previous two years saw the Edinburgh supporters invade the pitch in a euphoric fashion, and it was the side from the capital lifting the Varsity Cup taking it to 6 wins apiece since the inaugural Scottish Varsity match in London in 2011. Edinburgh scrum half Hugo Flinn was awarded the Steven Sims Player of the Match, presented this year by Steven’s mum Joan.

Earlier in the day, Edinburgh also took victory in the inaugural Mixed Touch match, having survived a similar St Andrews second half comeback to finish 6-5 up. The game was a great addition to the day and will hopefully be a firm fixture in the event in future years. Player of the Match went to Edinburgh’s Ethan Prestwood.

Final Score: 29-32

Attendance: 2,350

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