Murphy heroics earn St Andrews a Varsity hat-trick

A stunning try in the last play of the game, converted magnificently from the touchline, by 18-year-old Finn Murphy, enabled the University of St Andrews to retain the Royal Bank of Scotland Scottish Varsity match trophy for the third successive year by 27 points to 26.

While their recent successes were posted at Richmond Athletic Ground, tonight’s pulsating match against the University of Edinburgh took place on the international pitch at BT Murrayfield and was a tremendous advert for university rugby in Scotland.

This, after all, was the world’s oldest varsity match played out between two founder members of the Scottish Rugby Union.


It was a game of ebb and flow. St Andrews established a 17-0 lead playing with rare zip and gusto.  Edinburgh, sparked by their half-backs, particularly substitute Will Stephen, clawed their way back into the match to lead 19-17. The lead was to change hands a further three times in a quite breath-taking finale.

St Andrews’ Director of Rugby, David Ross, said: “We practice what we do in the last play of the game and to see us achieve in those circumstances is special.

“As an occasion, watched by 10,000 people, it was also an important day for Scottish student rugby and it would be great to come back and defend the trophy again next year.”


St Andrews started in belligerent fashion before a crowd of 9,679 and some sweet handling set up a fine narrow-side try for openside flanker Ruari Bell in the sixth minute. Finn Murphy struck a sumptuous conversion from the left touchline.

From Flinty to try scorer

More followed five minutes later.  The last time Scott Docherty, the St Andrews stand-off, strutted his stuff on the international pitch at BT Murrayfield he was in the Flinty mascot suit of Edinburgh Rugby.

Today, in more conventional garb, he made a searing break and then unselfishly laid on a try for his rapidly supporting half-back partner, Murphy.

St Andrews continued to enjoy territorial advantage and Docherty, whose late grandfather was a Scotland international stand-off in the 1950s, plundered their third try, taking on defenders at close range and having the strength to drive over.

Edinburgh rallied and, after a period of possession, where their driving maul was waxing strong, prop Callum Simpson, a fourth year mechanical engineering student, got low enough to burrow in for a try which Will Stephen converted.

St Andrews then lost winger Brodie Hunter to the sin-bin but a penalty from Stephen cannoned off the upright. Was the chance for Edinburgh to narrow the gap lost?

Not as it transpired. As the game moved into stoppage time, St Andrews were reduced to 13 men as flanker Rob Lind was yellow-carded. Edinburgh then made their numerical advantage tell as from a close-range scrum, Sandy Robson sniped over.

Half-time: St Andrews University 17 Edinburgh University 12

St Andrews saw out their sin-binning without a further dent in their lead but they were spending more time on the back foot thus far this half and had to scramble desperately to deny a determined thrust from Edinburgh full-back Iain Sexton.

Where there's a Will

More penalties saw Edinburgh attack off lineout ball for Will Stephen to juggle, then bamboozle the St Andrews defence, for the equalising try. Stephen’s conversion gave Edinburgh lead for the first time after 52 minutes.

Stephen miscued with a drop-goal attempt on the hour mark and four minutes later a breakdown offence went similarly unpunished as Murphy missed with a penalty for St Andrews.

A high tackle penalty against Sexton saw Edinburgh’s full-back sin-binned and Murphy this time nailed the penalty to nudge St Andrews back ahead.

A man down they may have been but Edinburgh’s right wing Jordan Lewis threw off his earlier cramp to spark an attack which led to an offside penalty. Edinburgh opted for the touchline but from a sustained attack No 8 Nick Stephen was adjudged held up. 

Vance bags try

From the subsequent scrum a pick-up by Stephen enabled substitute Ian Vance to strike from scrum-half. Stephen’s conversion stretched Edinburgh’s lead to 26-20.

St Andrews gathered themselves for one final onslaught and with Docherty finding space on the West Stand touchline with a ghosting run, the ball was worked to third year international relations and management student Rory Gardner who bulldozed over in the right corner.

Step forward Murphy, a product of George Heriot’s school and a member of the Scotland under-19 rugby league side. His conversion was immaculate and it was little wonder that he was named Steven Sims Man of the Match.

University of Edinburgh: Iain Sexton; Jordan Lewis, Robbie Kent, Morgan Ward, Nat Coe captain; Scott Bell, Sandy Robson; Callum Simpson, Rob Thomas, Dave Le Bas, Jack Williams, Rob Putter, Aidan McCall-Hagan, Luke Buchanan and Nick Stephen.  Subs: George Hardman, Charlie Clegg, Gus Antons, Erik Martennsen, Raef Morrison, Ian Vance and Will Stephen.

University of St Andrews: Rory Cairns; Roland Walker, Harry Jose, Toby Hall, Brodie Hunter; Scott Docherty, Finn Murphy; Michael Thornton, Mattie Dawson, Dug Berezford, Ashton Squires, George Hailstone captain, Rob Lind, Ruari Bell and James Wardle. Subs: Ben Peddie, Chris Cartmell, James Balfour, Joe McKay, Charlie Davies, Alex Kennedy and Rory Gardner.

Referee: Graeme Ormiston

Earlier, in the women’s match, watched by a healthy crowd of around 5,000, Edinburgh University, with a sprinkling of Scotland and age-grade caps, were just too strong for their St Andrews counterparts winning 36-7.

Edinburgh led 24-0 at the interval with a hat-trick of tries from Scotland centre Lisa Thomson, a first year sports science student, and an additional counter from scrum-half Lisa Pullan. Stand-off Helen Nelson converted two of the tries, harnessing the elements as you would expect of a meteorology student!

Into the second-half and Edinburgh extended their lead with Sally Stott powering over for Nelson to convert. But St Andrews were determined to give their vocal followers something to cheer and from a quickly taken tap penalty for offside Fiona Cooper crashed over for their first try, converted by stand-off Abbie Henderson, a fresher.

Nelson added Edinburgh’s sixth try to leave the capital victorious 36-7.


Lisa Thomson was the player of the match and she received the Keri Holdsworth award.

Edinburgh University: Amy Walter; Rhona Lloyd, Hatty Cumber, Lisa Thomson, Lucy Winter; Helen Nelson, Louise Pullan; Helen Young, Hannah Kurtz, Katie Dougan captain, Liusaidh McMaster, Debbie Lee, Ailsa Luke, Rachael Murray and Sally Stott.  Subs: Hatty McKay, Emily Marsden, Judith Oguguo, Nicola Howat, Cat Knott, Nina Friggens and Roisin Holmes

St Andrews University: Emma Lunney, Rhiannon Fox-Rothwell, India Roche, Agnes Chauvet captain, Comfort Ogbonnaya; Abbie Henderson, Lanita Gutieva; Kylie Courtney, Imogen Hooper, Jasmine Brand-Williamson, Nathalie Becker, Naomi Boon, Myrtille Genot, Dawnyshia Griffin and Fiona Cooper. Subs: Kate Saunders, Lottie Sadler, Zora Harris, Niki Davies, Erika Machan, Ali Huntley and Alexis Jenkins.

Referee: Alexandra Gordon-Smith