The University of Leicester (UoL) did the double over De Montfort University (DMU) as the annual Varsity fixtures returned to Welford Road on Wednesday evening.
Thousands of supporters watched the city’s university rivals go toe-to-toe in both men’s and women’s matches under the lights at the home of Leicester Tigers.
UoL’s women’s squad went into their game unbeaten since 2004, but with the match kicking off under sheets of rain, both teams played to the conditions for the first 20 minutes or so.
As the shower started to ease, though, UoL worked the ball up the field through their forwards and crossed for their first try through back-rower Jade Shakespeare with a quarter of the game gone. Fly-half Sophie King added the extras from the tee.
Leicester didn’t have to wait long for the next score, when Lucrezia Iavaraone galloped in from beyond the 22 for their second, and King converted once more.
Shakespeare wasn’t to be outdone, though, and peeled off the back of a rolling maul for her second in the right-hand corner and followed it up with a hat-trick score on the left as the first half came to a close.
UoL started the second half at pace, and it wasn’t long before centre Emily May set up Sarah Smart to score in front of the Robin Hood Stand and take the score to 29-0.
DMU then enjoyed a long period of pressure in their opposition’s 22, but despite some acrobatics from their winger, they were unable to get on the scoreboard. Play was soon back down the other end, and Shakespeare scored her fourth after quick hands from the UoL forwards.
Iavaraone wasn’t far behind for her second, to take the score to 39-0.
Sarah Smart then notched up the try of the match, getting on the end of a long pass on her own 22 and breaking the DMU line to sprint in for her second score, to a roar from the crowd.
UoL kept turning the screw, and Millie Coe topped off an excellent display with a try of her own to take the full time score to 49-0 and the women’s team’s Varsity record stretch to 16 years on the bounce.
DMU’s men last lifted the trophy in 2009, and were looking to roll their British Universities and Colleges Sport (BUCS) league form into this showpiece fixture against their rivals, who could boast Tigers’ Matt Smith, Ben White and Will Evans among their coaching team.
The game started at a frantic pace, with the opening salvos taking place on the half way line.
But UoL were clinical in their first real attack, and Jack Robinson took the ball with centimetres to spare on the left touchline to score the first try of the match. Max Johnson added the conversion, plus a further three points not long afterwards when DMU gave away a penalty on half way.
DMU – the home side on the night – did well to absorb pressure from a UoL scrum on their line, but when the ball spilled out scrum-half Silas Talbot was ready to pounce, and added Leicester’s second. Johnson made no mistake with the conversion to peg the score at 17-0.
UoL were soon back to battering the DMU line, but it took a further 10 minutes before flanker Jack Dickinson jinked and jived through three defenders for the next try.
Johnson added two more points before his pack gave away a cheap penalty just before half time. Adrian Mendez split the posts to put DMU on the scoreboard for the first time, and take the score to 24-3 at the break.
Leicester started the second half in much the same fashion as they’d started the first, and there would be no stopping hooker Bradley Ugodulunwa from five metres out, as he skittled three DMU defenders to cross the whitewash. Johnson’s conversion swirled through the posts.
Alex Bowles was next to get on the scoresheet for UoL, gratefully scooping the ball up on the left wing and touching down in front of a large contingent of his own fans, though Johnson couldn’t make the kick from the touchline.
He wouldn’t need to have a go at the next one, as DMU were adjudged to have brought down a UoL maul over the line and the referee had no option but to award a penalty try, taking the score to 43-3.
The final quarter was a quieter affair, with DMU having to do most of the defending. But they couldn’t hold out Luke Cerely, who took his side’s seventh try of the night in the dying seconds.
Max Johnson added the extras, and once the game restarted he made sure of the victory by booting the ball into the Holland & Barrett Stand for a full time score of 50-3.