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Despite suffering a number of defeats in their opening fixtures this season, Lancaster University Rugby League are looking onwards and upwards for the rest of the year. On Wednesday Week 6, despite tries from Marcus Heath, Mark Brown, and Sam Hudson, the tireless efforts of the whole team were unable to stop a closely fought 22-14 defeat at the hands of Newcastle University in the cup on Wednesday Week 6. Although the team have lost their first three matches this year, they clearly believe that their season can still be successful following a tough opening fixture list.
For large parts of the match Newcastle’s underlying quality shone through. They held possession for long periods of the match, but still found it difficult to break through Lancaster’s hard working forwards. Speaking to SCAN, Vice-Chairman of the team Joe Weir commended the group’s tenacity and grit despite the disappointing result. “The lads put the effort in. In the first half, Newcastle had a hell of a lot of possession on our line but it was set after set and the guys defended admirably. I think, at the end of it, because we only had four subs they were getting tired. They were trying to get quick plays and lost the ball, and then it was just a vicious cycle in the end.”
Nevertheless the better side walked away with the victory. In the second half, the tiredness of the men in red and black was obvious as Newcastle’s greater physicality became apparent, putting a great deal of pressure on Lancaster. “To be fair I think Newcastle played very well, they knew how to win a game,” Weir added. “We just seemed to have a bad game I think; nothing seemed to come off. We were giving away soft penalties and were losing the ball often.”
Lancaster sit second from bottom in the Northern 2A division, following defeats to Salford and UCLAN. Weir commented that early results had been disappointing, but perhaps not surprising with early ties against high quality opposition. “The thing was, we’ve been improving every week. We’ve been playing teams like Salford and UCLAN where you have to be on your game and we’ve been not far off it but we’ve been coming up short because they know how to win games.”
James Russell, the side’s Chairman, added that they found it hard to compete with universities with such a sporting pedigree. “They are two of the teams we think are going to be up there at the end of the season. The issue is that they are sports-based universities, a lot of the time with players studying for sports-based degrees, so their life IS sports. Also, they normally start earlier than us in the term so they have an extra week or two of training as well.”
The team have not just been in the spotlight on the pitch, but off it as well. They became the centre of debate regarding the ethical sponsorship of sports teams after gaining a sponsorship deal with KPMG, a company deemed unethical because of past involvement with tax evasion schemes. Russell said that whilst it is completely fair that there is policy to ensure sponsors are deemed ethical, the Rugby League team took issue with the “lack of communication” they experienced with LUSU.
He told SCAN, “LUSU haven’t spoken to me about KPMG since September 8. They haven’t contacted me about anything. Last thing I knew it was going to Council and they’d let me know the result, and I’ve not heard a thing. This is where the issue came. It got to the point where I was like, well we are going to have to order the kit. We didn’t have it for the first match; we had to borrow a kit off Heysham. But LUSU still haven’t spoken to us about any sort of issue there or anything like that. I was told it would be sorted by early September but it wasn’t and nobody has spoken to me about anything since.”
Russell was keen to address how the club has really benefited from the extra funding given by the Students’ Union and through their sponsors. He said that they aim to keep the cost as reasonable as possible for the team and “we are only able to put it at that price because of the sponsorship and the funding we get from LUSU as well. Without sponsorship we couldn’t do it.”
Hopes seemed high ahead of their next fixture against the University of Chester, with Weir and Russell in agreement that a win could be on the cards if the team is fighting fit. Weir stated, “We’ve got a few injuries. I think it’s got to the stage where, because we don’t have the post-game physio, having game after game after game, it’s getting to that point where the players bodies are saying, ‘we can’t do much more.’ But it would be massive for us to get a win, because we have got a long break until the next match.”