Durham University go into this Wednesdays final against UWE Hartpury as favorites, due to an unavoidable statistic that the side has not lost to university opposition in 36 matches. Only falling victim to a Newcastle Falcons A team where they were beaten at the last by a late penalty kick. The Durham story is a brilliant advert for student rugby for these players are not only outstanding athletes, they also have to juggle their rugby with their studies at one of the most prestigious universities in the world, famed for its academic prowess. Yet this current crop is just apart of a production line of player including world cup winner Will Greenwood, former England captain Will Carling and sevens star Ollie Phillips.
Durham set the pace last season sweeping all before them in all competitions including the BUCS championship, the BUCS 7s championship and the Premier North A league. One might say they were fortunate to beat a better UWIC side in last years final, However, a spirited second half fight back taking them from 23-12 down at half time to 25-23 winners says it all about the strength this Durham side possess. This season they have had to handle the new status as favorites and all that comes with it. It is the mark of the side that instead of shying away from this title, they have stepped up to the plate in some style with notable back to back wins over Loughborough, running out 48-7 winners at home and 44-14 away, on top of impressive victories over Cambridge Universities and an in form Bath side in the semi final. It is often said in sport that a good side can win a championship but a great side can do it multiple sides, and one can be in no doubt that this Durham side is one of the greats.
This resurgence in rugby success by the Palatinates has been spear headed by Director of Rugby Alex Key, whom has implemented a structure, which enables these players to push for their optimum whilst also maintaining their academic studies, a notable difference between them and their counter parts on Wednesday. On top of this the University has benefited from retaining key members of last seasons invincibles, including England internationals Josh Beaumont, Mike Ward, Andrew McCulla and Tom Shiel. In Beaumont they have a powerful lock forward whom provides a steel to the pack and allows half backs McCulla and Ward to control things whilst Shiel leads a devastating attack out wide.
Durham’s success has not just been within their 1XV with both their 2nd and 3rd teams winning their respective leagues and the 2nd XV in action in the trophy final at Richmond on Wednesday morning, not to mention winning the Premier League North B by some way. Thus the strength and depth within this Durham side is endless, and it is this depth, which has allowed them to carry on their winning ways despite injuries to team.
And so, it is a golden age to be in the Durham corner, and despite a number of their key players playing in their final match for the university, there is no reason why this success may continue into the coming seasons and here’s to hoping that it does. They will be in for a tough match against a very physical and very direct Hartpury side whom like to assert themselves onto the opposition and bully them, however this is nothing that they have not encountered before and so I am tipping them for a close fought win.