By Milan Perera, Columnist
In a thrilling display of skill and determination, both Bristol Medics RFC teams, UBHRFC and UBHWRFC, triumphed in their finals at the annual National Association of Medical School (NAMS) Rugby Union Championship in a scintillating display of some of the finest rugby seen on the pitch for Bristol Medics this season.
The highly anticipated finals took place at Grasshoppers RFC in Isleworth, London on Saturday, March 25. It featured UBHRFC (Men’s Team) for the Plate against Norwich and UBHWRFC (Women’s Team) for the Cup Final against Birmingham. It was a special moment for the latter as this was their first season in NAMS where Women’s Rugby was officially recognised. UBHWRFC is the brainchild of two Bristol medics, Charlotte Nichols and Maddy Padgett, who formed the Women’s team in their first year at the University of Bristol.
The proceedings for the day kicked off with the Men’s Plate Final between Norwich and Bristol Medics. From the outset, it was clear that the Bristol Medics were in fine form after an emphatic 33-0 win against Cardiff in the semi-final in Bristol. With slick passing and lightning-fast footwork that left Norwich trailing 5-22 at halftime, Bristol's forward pack dominated the scrums, securing clean ball for their backs and putting the Norwich Medics under pressure with relentless attacks.
However, it was Norwich who opened the scoring a few minutes into the game with a 5-0 scoreline. Bristol Medics then applied themselves with unruffled calmness and capitalised on the errors of Norwich Medics who gave away several penalties. Captain Jonny Lorimer scored a decisive try and put the visitors in front before Finn Graham slotted the conversion. Sam Osborne, the former swimmer turned front row propelled the visitors to a 5-17 lead shortly afterwards. But the highlight of the entire fixture was no doubt the astonishing try by the Third Year medic Alex Armstrong who ran a 70-metre sprint, beating the Norwich fullback one on one, with side-stepping that would have made Jason Robinson proud.
Although the 5-22 lead meant there was clear daylight between the hosts and the visitors at halftime, Bristol coach Mike Armiger cautioned against any complacency and drilled down the necessity of getting the basics right. As expected, there was a sudden burst of energy from Norwich Medics who scored a fine try in the second half. However, in the end, the Bristol Medics emerged victors and won the Plate, having played a superb game of rugby that displayed their talent and determination. The Norwich Medics were left to rue their missed opportunities, as they were unable to match Bristol’s intensity and flair.
Overall, it was a thrilling final that will live long in the memory of all who played it, especially for Matt Moran, Fifth Year medical student, who played his last NAMS game contributing with a penalty. With exhilarating penalties from Ben Thewlis and Fin Bell, the final score read 12-39 for the visitors.
Alex Armstrong was declared Player of the Match for contributing to the team's attack with precision and flair.
Speaking exclusively to Epigram, the Bristol skipper Jonny Lorimar pointed out that: ‘It's been a pleasure to lead such a great group of lads this season. It doesn't matter if you're a Fifth Year or a fresher. Everyone involved gave it everything and it paid off.'
'I've loved playing and whilst the fifth years will be missed, we have some younger players coming through who are keen to fill those positions and ensure the club continues to grow.'
'I hope retaining the plate shows that we should continue to push ourselves and challenge ourselves in the cup. The cup is where we should really be playing and testing ourselves against the likes of Cardiff and Nottingham.’
Buoyed by the Men’s triumph over Norwich, the Women’s team knew they had a job to do. They knew from the outset that this was going to be an evenly matched encounter.
The game began as it meant to go on with hard carries and heavy tackles from both sides. After a hard fought first 20 minutes, it was Bristol who opened the scoring, centre Emilie Davies carrying it over the line after a huge team effort that clocked the scoreboard 0-5 to Bristol.
Immediately after, Birmingham retaliated with a run down the far wing to make the scores even. It was all to play for at that point and a herculean effort was needed before half time to get Bristol Medics back on top. And that was exactly what happened when Bristol skipper Abi Brooke executed an excellent line break that gave Bristol a 5-10 lead.
After half time it was not long before Birmingham levelled things. Bristol full back, Ameera Jayman, scored under the posts after a strong carry through the middle, with fly-half Maddie Rendell kicking the conversion to make it 10-17 to Bristol Medics.
Shortly after this, Birmingham broke the Bristol line once again, but keen to score under the posts and level things up with an easy conversion. The Bristol prop Elspeth Cox had other ideas who chased the player down and tackled her in the try area which caused the Birmingham player to drop the ball and denying a try.
The Bristol captain, Abi Brooke, led the team with an exemplary performance by scoring again with a pick and go from the ruck to make it 10-22 for Bristol. Birmingham came back with five minutes to go to make it 15-22, but it was evident that Bristol Medics had the upper hand by this point which prompted Bristol full back Ameera Jayman to score again on the final whistle to make the final score 15-27 and seal the inaugural NAMS Rugby Cup.
Speaking to Epigram on the rollicking weekend was a delighted Charlotte Nichols, the co-founder, coach and player for the UBHWRFC: ‘Coaching this group of girls throughout my time at Bristol has been nothing short of a pleasure. My friend Maddy Padgett and I formed the UBHWRFC in our first year of university and this was the first season that women’s rugby was officially recognised by NAMS. To see how our club has evolved over the years from just 2 or 3 players at training to becoming national champions makes me so proud.'
'This group of players, many of whom have never played rugby before coming to Bristol, exemplify just what the game is about. They give it their all every single time and I couldn’t ask for more effort from them, but the most important thing about this club is the enjoyment and the fun that we have together.'
'Playing rugby with your mates is special and not something that should be taken for granted, becoming national champions with your mates even more so!’
It was a special day for the University of Bristol with both Men’s and Women’s teams bringing home the silverware. Both Lorimer and Nichols thanked Mike Armiger who oversees the performance and training for both teams.
Speaking to Epigram, the coach Mike Armiger could not be any happier for the teams: ‘Our students should be very proud of their achievements this year. For those who might not know what we are about, we work really hard across medics (Galenicals) sports to provide a competitive and inclusive sporting experience for students.'
'Students often comment that it feels more like a family than a club. Before the game we spoke about legacy and leaving things in a better place than we found them. Ensuring that the students of tomorrow have the opportunity to excel based on our hard work and achievements of today.'
'Despite a mixture of nerves, farewells to students playing their last games and an early start, both teams played some brilliant rugby. We showcased the very best of our abilities. This is the first year of operating the Women's national competition. To get to the final was an achievement in itself, to go on and win, was an absolutely outstanding achievement.’
He concluded that: ‘I must say that I feel extremely fortunate to be part of such an amazing student community. The medical school, Galenicals sports and I could not be prouder of their achievements.’