RUGBY: John’s get booted into touch by Fitz in the biggest cuppers shock for a decade.
John’s crashed out of Cuppers this week in a shock result, going down to bottom-division Fitzwilliam in a hotly-contested and highly-controversial game.
It is the first time John’s have not won Cuppers in more than eight years.
The scene was set for a tense and bitterly-fought game when John’s captain George Hunter tried to call the much-rearranged game off on the morning of the match, citing a lack of players. That provoked Fitz captain Alex Howe to respond, pointing out a league match last term in which Fitz were reduced to 12 players by injury but nonetheless refused to call the game off at short notice. Hunter eventually relented and the game went ahead, with the Redboys still managing to field several university players and a handful of substitutes.
The Redboys came out of the blocks strongly, looking to put the controversies behind them and get their campaign for yet another Cuppers title underway. But Fitz held them out, showing defensive organisation uncharacteristic of their third division standing.
Eventually though the pressure was too great and 20 minutes in Mathonwy Thomas, fresh from a Varsity appearance at Twickenham, made the crucial break, running into Fitz prop Ravi Dosanjh, but offloading to Rory van Zwananberg who went over for the first score. The conversion was added and the Redboys were 7-0 up.
It would have been easy for Fitz to let their heads drop, but tight, strong running around the breakdown kept them in possession as U21 players Kiran Vora and Seb Foster called the shots.
Shortly before half-time an attacking kick from Foster lead to a line-out on the John’s five-metre line. The John’s clearance kick that followed was charged down by captain Howe to force another line-out. Fitz flanker Jack Fielder stole the ball and the maroon shirts set up for a series of pick and drives. Lock Josh Keane looked like breaking through, but it was the compact James Evangeloulou who finally got the ball down. Foster added the extras to level the scores at half-time.
Now fully aware that they had a game on their hands, the Redboys looked to pile the pressure back on and won a penalty as a result. It was slotted over and they headed into half-time with a 10-7 lead.
After the break, Fitz No. 8 David Leahy took the ball up and made good yards to give his team the territorial advantage. Prolonged possession and great linking-up between forwards and backs gave winger Shavin Chellen an opening which he duly took and ran into the corner for the try. Kicking from the touchline, Foster held his composure to make the score 14-10.
Both teams traded missed penalty kicks, and an incisive break from Keane was to be one of the last moments of attacking display as the game settled into a stalemate. Solid defence prevented the Redboys from breaking through, even with TPJ in the heart of their backline.
With ten minutes left on the clock, the Redboys’ lock suffered a suspected neck injury. The referee elected to abandon the game at that point, leaving players and supporters alike confused about the outcome, with Fitz leading 14-10.
But the organisers have decided to award Fitz the victory quoting a regulation that declares that “after sixty minutes has been played a match is deemed to be valid … [and] the score at the moment of abandonment shall stand.”
Fitz now progress to the quarter-finals to play CCK, who comprehensively beat Magdalene 88-12. The winner of that game will face St Edmund’s in the semi-final, as Jesus will go head-to-head with Downing or Robinson in the other half of the draw for a spot in the final.