Ukraine, U-saw, U-conquered
On Wednesday, Leeds Rugby League 1sts faced opponents not from a different university, but a different country when they entertained the national Ukrainian team. Patrick Spicer Ward was on hand to see the Eastern Europeans triumph 30-10…
The overcast weather and freezing air led to both teams conducting extensive warm-ups in attempt to overcome the challenging conditions. The physical Ukrainians brought a team over with a mix of young and mature players, and were set to mount a great challenge for the relatively inexperienced Leeds Gryphons side.
The game began with both teams completing their first sets of six, as both looked to exploit the weakness in each others’ defence.
Ukraine captain Alexandr Skorbach broke the deadlock on five minutes, but missed the following conversion, as the away side punctured the Gryphons defence, despite a dubious forward pass not given in the build up.
Joe Wellings prevented the Ukraine from extending their lead, nullifying a break with a strong tackle. Handling mistakes riddled the game for a period until Nathan Lowe put a low kick through the opposing defence and the Gryphon’s backs combined to put Phil Joy in for a try.
The conversion was missed, and the Ukraine restarted the match with an inventive short kick with the scores level at 4-4.
Ukraine’s Mihal Troyan breached the impressive Gryphons defence and Skorbach added the extras with a difficult conversion from the touchline just before half time.
The game was evenly poised, but it was clear that the physical Ukraine side were proving difficult for the Gryphons to break down with their exceptional defence.
The second half began with the Gryphons dominating territory, but lacking any finishing technique as the Ukraine defence stood strong and rebuffed the attacks. A chance went begging for the home side with 60 minutes on the clock as the ball evaded their winger.
The visitors made them pay for the blunt attack when full back Vladimir Mashkin danced through the challenges and into the corner for a try, extending the lead to 18-4.
The game started to open up more as both teams tired. The visiting team scored two quick tries, from Danil Pozhidaev, and a second for Mashkin.
The impressive Skorbach who controlled the game slotted both conversions as the gulf in class between the sides began to appear in the last ten minutes.
With the score at 30-4, the Grphyons showed little sign of giving up and continued to work hard in attack and defence, with a particularly eye-catching display from the Gryphons pack.
The Gryphons earned a deserved consolation try in the dying moments as Adam Dyer intercepted a pass and ran the ball home from halfway, proving too quick for the chasing Ukrainian defenders.
The resulting kick was scored to reduce the deficit to 20 points at the final whistle.
The match completed a two-game tour for the Ukrainian national team: with their eight-day stay in the UK coming near to the fifth birthday of the creation of their team.
They have taken time to train with England coaches and attended the Gillette Four Nations games at Wembley.
On the day the Leeds Gryphons gave a committed performance against their classy opponents, the superior side from Europe ultimately outplayed them.
Team coach Neil Harman commented that his players did well against the big and skilled side, but their completion of sets in the second half let them down.
Leeds went into the game knowing the task would be difficult to overcome their tough opposition, but gave a good account of themselves.