Swansea edged out Cardiff by 16 points to 10 in a tight and tense encounter at the Liberty Stadium, watched by 14,000 fanatically passionate supporters. It was a hard-fought victory, owing much to Swansea’s better fitness and management of the game. It extends Swansea’s lead in the series to 13 victories to 6, with one draw.
Picture: the victorious Swansea team celebrate their win
The rugby match was utterly absorbing, but the occasion as a whole has become truly extraordinary. Varsity is now – beyond doubt - a major event in the life of the city.
The Evening Post recently published an editorial supporting Varsity and emphasising the very real economic boost it brings to Swansea. However, its benefits go wider than the student pound. For what Varsity captures and channels is the energy and passion that can bind thousands of young people not just to their University but to the city as a whole.
This energy pulses and crackles throughout the Varsity competition, not just for the rugby. You can see it in the total and unconditional support that students give to every one of the sports that make up Varsity: from the rowing last weekend to netball, archery and lacrosse.
The Swansea contingent will cheer anyone wearing green: gardeners, binmen, Asda employees outside on a break. Students were reportedly standing at pedestrian crossings, just so they could cheer the green man; with the added bonus of a chance to boo the red man.
Pleasingly, Varsity has become a day for all, not just hard-core fans. It is a carnival for Swansea: full of life and soul; of occasional excess, but also of exuberance.
International students are a big part of the day, even if the rules of rugby or canoe polo may be unfathomable for them, or indeed for anyone else. No matter. All are united in support of the men and women in green. That camaraderie, loyalty and goodwill towards Swansea is priceless.
Dispersed across the city throughout the day, by evening the fizzing energy of Varsity is concentrated in the steel cauldron of the Liberty Stadium. Inside, 14,000 fans chanting and singing, waiting to welcome their heroes to the field. Expectation, excitement: enough green energy to match the tidal lagoon.
A game of three halves
Buoyed by the deafening support from the Green and White Army in the stands, Swansea started with pace and intensity, dominating the opening 25 minutes, with Cardiff barely getting out of their own half.
Their sense of purpose and drive began to create opportunities. A smart break by scrum-half Josh Guy and centre Jedd Evans had Cardiff scrambling for cover. The green half of the crowd were in ecstasy when the Swansea backs danced over the tryline in the corner, only to have their joy cut short by a linesman ruling that a foot was in touch. This was rugby, not research; but still academics could be heard cursing the Ref.
A penalty had put Swansea into an early lead, and the second biggest cheer of the game up to that point came when a Cardiff penalty which would have levelled the scores bounced back off the post. It was a rare visit to Swansea territory for the men in red.
However, a 3-0 lead was scant reward for Swansea’s commanding performance in the first 25 minutes. They had created lots of other opportunities: would they rue not taking them?
Slowly Cardiff were starting to find a foothold in the game, getting more possession and using it to build neat moves and crank up their attack. One of their first forays close to the Swansea line saw them kick a penalty to the corner, but it was then their turn to waste a scoring opportunity as Swansea cleared from behind their own posts.
At last, an opportunity was taken, and it was for Cardiff. They had inched up the field into Swansea territory and begun to exert some sustained pressure. Sending the ball wide, a neat missed pass created space to put their winger through for the try.
They had fought their way back into the game, and were displaying the directness and purpose that had been the sole prerogative of Swansea in the first 25 minutes. Their backs were running clever angles, finding ways through the Swansea wall: a chip and chase for the line almost saw them extend their lead, but for some desperate last-ditch defence.
At 7-3, the half-time score said it all: a tight game, with only one opportunity taken by each side. The momentum, however, was clearly with Cardiff.
More athleticism was on display at half time, with the extraordinary Swansea Sirens and their Cardiff counterparts showing off their cheerleading skills.
The Sirens deserve an honourable mention on two counts. First, you would never have guessed it from their performance, but they only had a handful of opportunities to practise their routine, it emerged in an impromptu post-match interview with Kate, Katie and Kayley. Second, they kept the show going without being distracted by a gentleman on the pitch who appeared to have got lost on his way to a naturists’ convention. What total professionals they are.
Picture: The Swansea Sirens show off their athleticism.
As the second half got under way, Cardiff picked up where they had left off, enjoying the majority of possession and territory, and stretching their lead to 10-3 with a penalty. Would Swansea be left to bemoan the missed opportunities from their early dominance? The Green and White Army roared on their men, turning up the volume to 11. They still believed.
Slowly, surely, the pendulum began to swing back towards Swansea, as they patiently reasserted themselves in the game.
A scintillating move by the Swansea backs saw them break through to Cardiff’s 22, using the whole width of the pitch to find space in the corner, with the try denied only by a knock-on as Swansea were reaching out to ground the ball, enveloped by Cardiff defenders.
But Swansea were turning the screw now, showing their intent by choosing to kick for the corner rather than attempt a penalty in kicking range. Their ambition and confidence was to be rewarded. Deep in the Cardiff 22, the forwards were steamrollering Cardiff back towards their own line, creating space out wide, where the backs were prowling and probing. Finally, the pressure told, with scrum-half Josh Guy pulling away from a maul right on the Cardiff line and pirouetting his way over under the posts.
With Rory Garret slotting the conversion, it levelled the scores at 10-10. Game on.
Tense, tight, delicately poised, the game approached its final quarter. Swansea continued to press and create chances, now having fully recovered the intensity they showed early in the game. A storming rolling maul took them to within inches of the Cardiff line. One of the finest charge-downs you will ever see, by a Swansea prop, won them a penalty. 13-10: Swansea had regained their lead. Could they hold on?
The clock was ticking, the crowd was counting down; students were even postponing trips to the bar. One chance, one mistake, could settle it.
This is where tactical nous, game management and fitness played a decisive role. It is a truth universally acknowledged that you cannot score in rugby if you don’t have the ball, or if you are at the wrong end of the pitch. Swansea made Cardiff suffer on both counts, starving them of possession and pinning back in their own half, making every tackle, slowing the game down, and running down the clock. It wasn’t pretty. It wasn’t champagne rugby. But it was a masterclass in how to see out a game and claim the victory.
Their triumph was assured with virtually the final kick of the game: a successful penalty for Swansea, leaving the final score standing at 16-10 to the men in green.
It was a deserved victory for a committed, mature and composed performance.
The University and the City
A jubilant green tide flowed out across the city once more; though it looked likely to pool once again in Wind Street. Thirty cheerleaders were belting out Beyonce as they snaked their way through the streets of Hafod.
It was perhaps fitting that the focus for all this energy – the epicentre - had been Hafod. Of all the areas of Swansea, it is here that the roots of Swansea University lie.
It was the copper fortune amassed at their Hafod works by the Vivian family that allowed them to buy Singleton Abbey house and estate, where Swansea University’s campus now stands. The University was set up to meet the needs of the metal industry, centred around Hafod. The University is playing its part in regenerating the area too, with historians developing the site of the old Hafod copperworks.
Picture: Hafod copperworks, opposite the Liberty Stadium: regeneration by City and University working together
How many of the 14,000 students must have pondered these historical echoes as they danced and swayed their way through the streets? Probably none. But they are real and tangible nonetheless.
For our University and city to thrive, they need each other: it is as true in the 21st century as it was in the era when copper was king.
The key ingredients are energy, passion and a heartfelt commitment to Swansea. Few occasions harness those qualities quite like Varsity. Now 20 years old, long may it continue.
- Thursday 21 April 2016 12.36 BST
- Thursday 21 April 2016 12.34 BST
- Public Relations Office