St John's come away with the ball after yet another powerful scrum.Marcus McCabe

Having won an imposing three out of the last four possible trophies, St John’s have dominated the Cuppers rugby scene in recent seasons and went into this year’s final as confident favourites to make it four in five. But their opponents, a plucky Queens’ College XV enjoying their first appearance in a final for 33 years, certainly rose to the occasion, defending doggedly and competing right up to the final whistle. Ultimately, however, experience paid off as the St John’s Redboys ran out 35-13 winners on a muddy but jubilant evening at Grange Road.

Starting the year in Division 5 and finishing it in Division 3, the meteoric rise of Queens’ this season has included Cuppers wins against Jesus and Emmanuel before they dispatched Gonville & Caius in the semi-finals 29-23. St John’s beat Robinson before a 47-12 demolition of Girton to set up their date in the final. Both sides brought a substantial and vocal following – with St John’s fans going as far as to hand out song sheets and a megaphone – which made for an expectantly boisterous atmosphere.

The fervour in the stands seemed to translate readily to the players on the pitch as the first few minutes were conducted at breakneck speed. Within the first minute, St John’s scrum-half Jacob Heath came a finger’s breadth from scoring a stunning solo try, stopped only by a last-ditch tackle on the Queens’ ten-metre line. A penalty awarded in the ensuing melee was tucked away by George Griffiths to break the deadlock. Both sides would maintain this frenetic tempo for the duration, showing their willingness to live up to the spectacle.

Saturday night saw a deserved triumph for St John’s College, with their superior forward work grinding their opponents into the mud

However, it was Queens’ who first drew real blood on a breakaway. Plucking a wayward pass from the air, Cambridge Blue Ollie Phillips offloaded to Alex Roberts-Huntley who, with half the pitch opening out in front of him, left the red defence in his wake with a lung-busting run to touch down after ten minutes played.

The response from St John’s was immediate and potent, with the proceeding quarter of the game spent deep in Queens’ territory as scrum after scrum, hauled onwards by the formidable front row of Cambridge Blues Demitri Moros, Fionn Dillon-Kelly and Will Dean, were kept at bay by the kind of spirited defending and hard tackling which kept Queens’ in with a fighting chance all game. Finally, and inevitably, the immense power of St John’s proved too much when around the half-hour mark Heath bundled the ball over the line after the maul. With the conversion successful, the scores sat at a narrow 10-8 at half time.

St John's Redboys with a well-deserved celebration at the final whistle.Marcus McCabe

With the beers flowing and the crowd increasingly raucous, St John’s looked to start the second period as they began the first, taking the initiative and looking to tire an increasingly beleaguered yet perseverant Queens’. Another siege at the base of the Queens’ sticks led to a try scrambled over by Dillon-Kelly at 51 minutes, followed by conversion and penalty by the prolific Griffiths to make it 23-8. Things were beginning to look increasingly out of sight for captain Will Morris’ men.

More misery was heaped on the green-and-white stripes as the ever-stalwart number ten Ollie Phillips was sin-binned for foul play with 20 minutes to go. It would have been easy for a lesser team to crumble at this point, but Queens’ managed to keep things scrappy and diverted the bulk of play to the half-way line, holding on without conceding until they were no longer a man down. They were rewarded almost immediately as, with renewed confidence, they surged into the ascendancy, opening up a gap for Jack Capstick-Dale to run the long way around and touchdown by the corner flag.

St John’s have dominated the Cuppers rugby scene in recent seasons and their experience paid off yet again

With ten minutes to go and the scores carefully balanced at 23-13, a comeback was not beyond the realms of possibility. However, just as Queens’ were pushing for a way back into the contest, two quick-fire tries from St John’s finally knocked the stuffing out of their opposition. The full-time whistle, when it came soon after, was met with elation by at least half the supporters who filled the stands at Grange Road.

Saturday night saw a deserved fourth triumph in five years for St John’s College, with their superior forward work grinding their opponents into the mud over the course of 80 minutes. However, Queens’ will truly be able to return home with their heads held high, having made history of their own and shown heart and desire in spades along the way. Both those backing red and those backing green were presented with more than enough to cheer for through the drizzle of exam term.


Mountain View

Queens' break hearts in historic triumph

Queens’ College: Jack Capstick-Dale, Alex Roberts-Huntley, Will Morris (C), Calum Young, Gus Machado, Ollie Phillips, James Lloyd, Dan Bulman, Ben Minett, Angus King, Fred Jennings, Callum Macdonald, Time Pearson, Michael Whitehead, Tyler Hammond.

Replacements: Francois Macé, Chris Turnbull, Ted Wallace, Lucas Marsden-Smedley, Fin Williams, Jonathan Sinclair-Williams, Ted Huggins, George Moore.

St John’s College: Will Saunter, Duncan Ashworth, Tom McAllister, George Griffiths, Mudara Sebabayake, Dan Blick, Jacob Heath, Will Dean, Fionn Dillon-Kelly, Demitri Moros, Sam Fitzsimmons (C), Charlie Friend, Sam Moore, Max Antcliff.

Replacements: Henry Somers, Darius Zarrabian, Brian Obiri, Russell Hughes, James Laudage, Will McClune, Marius Stensrud, George Lodge.