Blues Outmuscled In Varsity Match
RUGBY: RUPERT MERCER reports from the 130th Varsity Match, which ends in disappointment for outclassed Light Blues.
Oxford 28 – 10 Cambridge
Light Blue hopes were crushed on a windy afternoon at Twickenham as Oxford overpowered them in the 130th Varsity Match.
Talk before kick off centred around the clash between Oxford’s forwards and Cambridge’s backs, but such was the control of the Dark Blue pack that Cambridge were never able to truly release their runners, who were starved of ball for most of the afternoon. So as the match went on and the Cambridge pack tired Oxford were able to have things entirely their own way, coasting through a second half where they barely looked troubled.
Things had in fact started brightly for Guinness King’s men after one of their patented rolling mauls bought them a penalty under the posts, stroked confidently over by Steve Townend within minutes of the kick-off, but things quickly took a turn for the worse. When late replacement at hooker, Mark Murdoch failed to find his man with the line out on his own 22, Oxford piled on the pressure. The Dark Blues worked it wide quickly and their forwards, first to the ruck, were able to force over prop, Will Kane, for the match’s opening try. Cassian Brahman-Law put over the points to stretch the lead.
Cambridge didn’t seem too troubled by their early set-back and went about their business with diligence, though maybe not with brilliance. Guinness King was showing no ill effects of his lack of game-time, putting in some crunching hits.
Oxford were still controlling the phases, however, and were rewarded with a penalty, confidently put away by Brahman-Law to make it 10-3.
Just when it looked like Oxford were controlling the match, a moment of inspiration from full-back Tom O’Toole unlocked the Dark Blue defence. Collecting a clearance kick on the bounce he outpaced two men before chipping over the defensive line. He was then the first to the loose ball and fly-hacked it forward. Don Blake slid in along with two Oxford players over the try line and claimed the score. After lengthy deliberation the Video ref ruled no try and it looked as thought the break-away had been in vain, but from the resulting five-metre scrum Oxford were penalised for collapsing and the penalty try was awarded.
During the build up to the try, Oxford’s captain, John Carter had stayed down clutching his face. Replays showed that number 8, Dave Allen had punched him in the eye. The referee, without Sky Sports’s slow-motion replays let the incident go unpunished and Carter was carried from the field. When he reemerged ten minutes later, with a swelling the size of a grapefruit on his cheekbone, he was clearly a man on a mission. He instantly conceded a penalty for violent play, but soon learned to channel his aggression. From that moment on he was everywhere, carrying the ball and putting in the hits to go with his Sebastian Chabal hair.
So Cambridge had found themselves level against the run of play, but their afternoon only headed downhill from there. Oxford added another three before the break to give themselves a deserved lead and the teams headed to the dressing rooms with much to mull over. Cambridge had stayed strong in defence up front but had been unable to make the yards to release their backs; Oxford had seen the danger of letting the game become loose when O’Toole broke and knew they needed to keep things tight to make their dominance pay.
It was Oxford who were able to take these lessons on board and in the second period their scrum began to enforce total domination, with Carter backed up by the fearsome Mohawk of Man of the Match, Karl Outen in the second row, putting in big hit after big hit on their counterparts. Special mention should also go to the superb Govind Oliver, a hooker as willing to carry the ball as to ruck hard whose energy around the breakdown bought his side countless yards.
The Dark Blue pack got their reward when they turned Cambridge’s beloved rolling maul against them, driving Outen over in the corner. Although the conversion was missed Oxford were forcing home their superiority.
They added another penalty before they finally killed the game off late on. Fly-half, Tom Mitchell capped an excellent play-linking performance by wriggling through the challenges to complete Cambridge’s misery.
Oxford fully merited their victory. Talk in the post-match press conference (which you can read on The Tab tomorrow) was of a team effort and certainly they were able to link their side better than Cambridge all day. The Light Blues seemed to hope that they could create enough chances to negate Oxford’s up-front dominance, but they never got the ball they needed to make their backs’ quality pay. Matt Guinness King now hangs up his boots with a defeat, but after an impressive personal performance and the Blues have twelve months to make sure it’s not three in a row for Oxford next time they take to the Twickenham turf.
Photographs by David Ponting.