Durham University v England 5th February 2017
Durham University Lacrosse team faced Team England’s performance squad last Sunday at Durham’s Maiden Castle Sports Ground in a game that many were finding it hard to predict. Durham have brushed aside everyone in the BUCs Northern Premiership to date, wrapping up the league with 2 games to spare after recording 10 wins out of 10, scoring 188 goals and conceding just 42. Whilst for the Team England Performance squad this would be their first time out on the field together, having been selected following the trial process at the Winter Classic in December. There was no easy comparison between the two teams; Durham had not been fully tested in the BUCS league and at the same time this newly formed England Team have not played together yet.
The only comparison that could possibly be made was the style of the two teams, Durham would prominently be a very American style dodging team, looking to draw slides and shoot or pass off big alley dodges. The England team would be looking to build on their patient, high tempo ball moving offence that we saw from them at the European Championships. It was a given that both teams would look to push transition.
England arrived at Maiden Castle just under 2 hours before face off and headed straight into the changing rooms to start their pre-game meetings and build up. At 1pm they emerged from the changing rooms and made the walk to the pitch that they would start their build up to the 2018 World Championships on, hoping for a win. Around 1.20pm the Durham team, littered with NCAA experience, started filtering onto the pitch, quickly erecting a speaker and blasting out The Village People’s YMCA, an interesting choice to get them going to say the least. With the teams on the pitch the crowd started gathering and come 2pm the opposite side of the pitch to the benches was amass with people creating a feverish atmosphere.
With the game underway England made a point of silencing the crowd and racing into a 4-0 lead. Long controlled possessions lead by captains Sam Russell and Nick Watson created excellent opportunities for the English who finished with aplomb. Leaving the Durham team, and fans, shell-shocked by what had just hit them. England were looking confident and moving the ball well in attack, Durham looked the opposite. When they did get hold of the ball they forced chances on goal and passes that were always likely to miss their man or get intercepted. The quarter ended 4-0 with Durham yet to make an impression on the game.
If the first quarter was a masterclass in how to silence a partisan crowd and control a game by the English, the second was lesson in how to drag yourselves back into a game and ensure that it didn’t get away from you by the University team. Durham seemed to rock the England team’s confidence and suddenly the slick ball movement and passing were a distant memory. With turnovers occurring regularly thanks to quick, effective sliding and checking from the Durham defence, Pat Karole (University of Denver) and Eli Gobrecht (Ithaca College) leading the way for the rest of reigning BUCS Champions defence. Durham would capitalise on their man up opportunities, allowed to them by poor England penalties, and win the quarter 4 goals to 1, Nick Watson’s low finish after a lovely split dodge England’s only goal of the quarter. This left the game perfectly poised with Team England up by 1 at half time and Durham growing into the game.
The third quarter started with the two teams trading goals, Durham with the first which pulled the game level at 5-5. Matt Collier then took England ahead with a man up goal off a Sam Russell feed, 6-5 England. Durham once again drew the game level with a tight angled bounce shot that snuck past Will Baxter and nestled into the top of the goal, 6-6. Alex Russell then took a fine chance from a feed off Will Hardy to put England one up again and notch a hat trick for himself. Durham would then buck the trend of alternate scoring and get back to back goals to take the lead for the first time in the game, leading by 8 goals to 7. Durham were making the most of every chance they got with a man advantage, time and time again moving the ball with speed and precision to find the best, often unopposed shot on goal. The quarters scoring hadn’t finished there though, Matt Collier scooping up a rebound to finish coolly and take the game to 8 a piece at the end of the third quarter.
Durham sensed that this could be their game at the start of the final quarter and two quick goals left England trailing and chasing the game. Excellent work at the face off X by Danny Matthews saw England gather some possession and eventually work it to Alex Russell who struck the base of the post, only to see the ball rebound back to him and stick it in the back of the net to take England to within 1 goal again. England once again found themselves in possession with 5 minutes to play in the game when head coach Tom Wenham called a timeout to organise his troops and put a plan in place to see England finish the game on a high and come away with a win. A set play resulted in a great save being made by Durham’s goal keeper Michael Grace (Mercyhurst), one of many he made on the day, and a fast break being converted at the other end by Connor Rice (Marist University), more than once a thorn in the England side with his creativity and vision on the man up. With that Durham held on to complete a famous 11-9 victory against the English.
Durham can be extremely proud of their performance and must be congratulated for their organisation of this game. A huge crowd turned out to watch the game and create an incredible atmosphere for all the players on the pitch. England will go away disappointed knowing that their performance wasn’t up to scratch, but with positives to take and this being the first step on a long 18 month journey to the World Championships 2018, they will use it as a bench mark to compare future performances to.
We for one certainly look forward to seeing more of this young England team and also wish Durham the best of luck for the rest of their BUCs season. It would be fantastic to see more games of this standard played in England, at a great facility with a huge crowd.
For more photos of the game check out Jean-Sebastien Connell’s album here https://www.facebook.com/jeansebastien.connell/media_set?set=a.10211877571711623.1073741836.1140825001&type=3
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