The 1st Dan James Memorial Match


The match reported below, against England U20 was played as a warm up match at the start of the U20s camp before the 2009 world cup in which England came runners up to New Zealand. It was also our first Dan James Memorial Match (click for Dan James story) and proved to be an unforgettable night for Loughborough rugby. Rod Thorpe, former Loughborough Director of Sport and world renowned coaching guru, summed up the magnitude of the achievement:

"I think the performance of the boys last night equalled anything I have seen in my 40 years watching student sport" Rod Thorpe

Loughborough shock England under-20s for historic win
Rugby Union report - 14/May/2009

Loughborough Students 23 20 England U20

Loughborough Students gave an awe-inspiring performance in memory of their former team mate to outplay a stunned England under-20 side..

The Dan James Memorial Match, England's only warm-up fixture ahead of next month's Junior World Championship in Japan, was played at Loughborough University in front of a 3,000-strong crowd that included England chief Rob Andrew.

Both teams touched down twice during the monumental battle which provided an apt finale to a busy season for Loughborough who finished in the top half of National North Three in their first year.

I'm absolutely delighted and extremely proud of the boys, the coaches and the support staff,” said Loughborough head coach Dave Morris. Going into the match we weren't sure what to expect - it's one of those fixtures you rarely get to play, but most of the team play in the Premiership which put the odds in their favour.

Our defence since Christmas has been outstanding so we built on that last night. We were really competitive at the breakdown, we used defence as attack and we just had a go.

It was a really emotional evening, because of Dan and our physio Paula Wild who died just after Christmas. But the guys went out and represented their memories spectacularly well, it was a wonderful night.”

Loughborough opened the scoring minutes into the game with a well-struck penalty from England Students star Grant Pointer.

The visitors rallied and were soon in Loughborough's half, with full back Rory Clegg getting close in the corner. But Loughborough's stalwart defence held strong in the face of a sustained battering on their line, until England openside Calum Clark found a gap to cross it. The try was converted to give England a 7-3 lead.

England continued to pressure, but Loughborough's two-man tackling and the impressive efforts of flanker Simon Pitfield - who has represented both England Students and England under-19s, denied them a score.

The Students vigilance around the ruck paid dividends when a loose ball was stolen and found its way into the hands of winger Dave Vincent. Pitfield made ground through the centre of the pitch before some showboating on the right wing saw Loughborough through, centre James Golledge finishing off the move and trotting under the posts. Pointer slotted the conversion to put Loughborough 10-7 up.

England claimed the resulting restart but soon gave the ball up as Loughborough received a penalty and booted it out of the danger zone. The game continued and the ball yo-yoed from one end to another, neither side giving way.

But a well worked backs move for the Students saw them up into the opposition 22. England watched a punt to the try line bobble over and, under pressure from the Loughborough attack, sliced the ball out. The following Loughborough lineout just five metres out, provided the platform for more glory for the Students when Prop Tom Urpens drove over the line from a well worked move with Pointer converting to increase the lead to 17-7.

With ten minutes of the half remaining England grabbed a chance at goal with a penalty in range of the posts and closed the gap 17-10.

Desperate for a further score before the break, the visitors kept up the charge. But Loughborough remained strong and looked in with another chance of scoring themselves when number eight Phil Burgess, who has also represented England Students this year, picked up a loose ball and charged into England’s 22m. Hungry for the line, Loughborough's forwards put on a striking display, but were denied short when the visitors snuck back the ball.

England shot back down the pitch and opted for a scrum when awarded a penalty under the posts but Loughborough got turned over the ball and were given a penalty on their own line when the visitors interfered. A clearance kick heralded the half time whistle, the score staying ay 17-10.

England rang on the changes for the second half and the first 10 minutes of play were broken as a number of the home side limped off the pitch. England slotted an early three points to lessen their deficit 17-13. 

The under-20s started to dominate the ball and Loughborough were time and again put under pressure close to their posts. But their defence held strong and their patience paid off when fly half George Drake called for the mark and ran the ball out of the 22m. Winger Vincent worked with Pitfield who made ground to half-way where his side received a penalty at the breakdown. Two further penalties saw Loughborough within range of the posts and replacement scrum half Henry Pyrgos stepped up for the score to give his side a 20-13 lead.

Back row Burgess epitomised his energised team's performance as Loughborough continued to make chances and threaten England's line on several occasions. Both Burgess and replacement winger Simon Lilley came close to a score.

With just ten minutes to go Loughborough were awarded a penalty in front of the post which Pyrgos took successfully for a 10 point lead.

Another kicking exchange ensued and Loughborough made it easy for England with two penalties on the bounce. Now in reach of the line and playing for pride, the under-20s had the last word as Luke Eves nipped over in the corner, but Clegg’s conversion couldn’t ruin the Students’ party as they took the historic win.

The match celebrated the life of Dan James, who died last September 18 months after he was paralysed in a training ground accident. James was an England Students hooker who played in two BUSA Championship-winning Loughborough teams, scoring two tries in the 2006 final against Bath.

Money raised from ticket sales is going to the Dan James Trust, which supports spinal injury research, and parents Mark and Julie presented a cup in Dan's memory to Loughborough captain Evan Stewart.

Tom Mills