by Tom Pritchard
FOR University of South Wales Men’s 1st rugby team, it was a season which they will look back on and wonder what might have been.
Ben Daniels’ team finished third in the BUCS South A, 11 points behind champions Cardiff University 1st. They also reached the semi-finals of the BUCS Vase, where they were outclassed by a strong Durham outfit.
The season began with a 29-40 defeat away to Hartpury. A positive was that USW scored four tries to pick up a try bonus point, something which they go on to do with regularity throughout the season.
They picked up their first victory a week later against Swansea at Sardis Road. Again, they scored four tries, but the real plus point was their defensive performance; conceding 21 points less than the previous week in a 31-19 success. Open-side flanker Sion Edwards crossed the line for a hat-trick of tries to kick-start USW’s season.
For fly-half Foard Cooksley, the Swansea game was a proud moment: “My personal highlight was running out at Sardis Road for the first time against Swansea, a ground so special where I watched my heroes and now I’m playing there.”
Looking back on the season, captain Gareth Jones said: “I think from a squad point of view, we are a little disappointed not to finish higher and not reach the final of the cup with some of the performances we’ve produced this year.”
The first team welcomed a lot of new faces for the 2017/18 campaign, and Jones admitted that there was a sense of intrigue of what could be achieved: “From a personal level, I didn’t have any idea of what to expect this year with the new boys coming in, we knew it was more of a transition period for ourselves.”
Cooksley is optimistic that those who joined this season can go on to achieve a higher finish next year: “We were a team in transition and with the new additions I certainly believe we can win the league next year.”
Jones agrees, and is encouraged by the calibre of players in the squad: “We’ve got plenty of boys who have experience at University level, (Principality) Premiership level and are pushing regional representation.”
Following the win against Swansea, the Treforest based side would go on to lose two narrow encounters against Bristol and Cardiff respectively. A missed conversion meant a losing deficit of only two points against Bristol at Coombe Dingle, and it was the same story against the eventual champions at Sardis Road; USW out-scored their opponents in tries, but paid the price for a missed effort from the tee.
These agonising defeats would prove to be a catalyst for improvement: USW would go on to win their next four league games against Exeter 2nd, Bath 2nd, UWE 1st and Hartpury 2nd respectively.
Captain Jones was well aware that the early season would involve a bedding-in process, but claims: “The further the season went on, the more the squad and I knew we could get a decent outcome.”
The four-match winning run was brought to an end with a disappointing defeat against Swansea at Sketty Lane. University of South Wales held a 15-5 lead at half-time, but would go on to lose the second half 3-26 in an 18-31 loss.
The South Wales side showed their character and once again went on a four-game winning run. The victims this time around were: Bristol 1st, Exeter 2nd, Bath 2nd and UWE 1st. USW would complete the double over Exeter, Bath and UWE in this run of games.
Their final game of the season would be against Cardiff, who had wrapped up the league title a week earlier. USW crossed the try-line three times, however the home side secured a try bonus point and slotted three penalties to run out 37-17 winners at the Sports Fields in Llanrumney.
University of South Wales finished the BUCS South A season with a record of nine wins and five defeats from their 14 league games. The two narrow defeats to Bristol and Cardiff at the start of the season were to prove costly in USW’s hopes of achieving a top two finish, as they finished three points behind second-placed Hartpury 2nd with a tally of 45.
As one campaign concluded, another began as Ben Daniels’ side began the BUCS Vase with a high scoring 51-32 win against Loughborough 2nd in the last 16 at Sardis Road. The home side scored eight tries in all, but would have been disappointed at allowing their opponents to score five times in what was a very open game.
A BUCS Disciplinary Ruling meant that USW were awarded an involuntary walkover of Leeds 1st in the quarter-finals.
The semi-finals would prove to be a step too far for USW, as they went down 19-54 to BUCS North A champions Durham 2nd at Maiden Castle.
The defeat brought an end to a season where University of South Wales produced numerous high-level performances, with some disappointment along the way. Retaining the majority of the squad, along with some new additions should allow them to have a real go at winning the BUCS South A in 2018/19.
Gareth Jones concluded by making clear how proud he has been lead the side this year: “It’s been an honour captaining the squad this season, with the talent pool we have and competition for places it’s been a great opportunity for myself.”
BUCS Rugby Union 2017-2018 South A: Third (45 points)
BUCS Rugby Union 2017-2018 Vase: Semi-finals
(Featured Image by Nathan Parker: USW scrum-half Jamie Hill dots down in the corner against Swansea University)