Cambridge University clinch victory over Oxford in the 136th Varsity Match
Light Blues earn win at Twickenham
Forward power with a touch of flair saw Cambridge University secure a 20-10 victory over Oxford University in the 136th Varsity Match at Twickenham.
It was a classic of the gripping kind rather than of the running rugby variety, but it left you on the edge of your seat nonetheless.
Oxford had headed into the match with the favourites’ tag after a Michaelmas Term that saw them only beaten twice, while Cambridge had only claimed a handful of wins, with injuries disrupting their preparations.
However, there was always the feeling that if they could just put out their first choice pack then the advantage may swing in their favour, and that is exactly what happened.
There was a lot of firepower in the backs, but it was in the forwards where ultimately their strength came through, with them dominating the scrum and at the line-out.
There was nothing in it in the first half though, when a suitable tagline would have been big hearts, big hits.
Both teams were putting all they had on the line, and for that reason it became a game of chess – when one side got the ascendancy, it was difficult for the other to break the stranglehold.
It was Cambridge that made the better start though, with Oxford searching for that cohesion to get into gear.
The back fives were to the fore – as predicted pre-match – and for the Light Blues it was the bombastic Andrew Hunter leading the charge, getting involved in some early needle with Oxford winger Ed David.
That seemed to set the tone as what some might call a ‘traditional’ Varsity Match developed, with grunt and force the key feature.
However, that said there were quite a few scoring chances and also some good rugby.
Oxford were running some neat backs moves when they had the ball – with their time coming in the middle 20 minutes of the half – with support lines and off-loads aplenty.
It is for that reason that you were sometimes left to question the kicking options of Connor Kearns, who seemed to be giving up possession for his side.
Cambridge had got the ball over the line on four occasions in the half, and just short another time, but only one counted.
Buchan Richardson went over in the eighth minute but was deemed to have been in touch first, Charlie Amesbury was then held up in the 30th minute before Henry King dropped a pass on the line two minutes later.
And then when Jake Hennessey swapped passes with Matt Watson to race away and score, the first pass was judged forward.
So the try that counted turned out to be the opening score of the game in the 33rd minute.
A huge Cambridge scrum – which had been performing well throughout the half – pushed Oxford off the ball on their own line, and Chris Bell picked up at the base to dart through and touch down.
But Oxford hit back five minutes later through a penalty from Kearns, and it remained 5-3 at half time.
Cambridge enjoyed the larger share of territory at the start of the second half, and their play was rewarded when Mike Phillips slotted a penalty.
There then followed a long delay in proceedings as Cambridge’s Matt Watson was stretchered off with a neck injury.
It could have disrupted the Light Blues, but certainly did not as they were next to score.
More good work at the set-piece saw play moved left and Archie Russell went round the outside to ground the ball in the corner.
Such was the nature of the game, it swung back towards Oxford gaining the upper hand. And with some fluidity to take the game to the Cambridge line, they then ramped up the pressure through the forwards.
Numerous pick and gos later, it was the ever-impressive Will Wilson that finally touched down for Oxford, with Kearns’ conversion reducing the arrears to 13-10.
The set-piece that had been so good all afternoon earned Cambridge their next points as captain Charlie Amesbury joined a catch-and-drive at a line-out to carry the ball over the line for a try. And Phillips converted to make it 20-10.
The defence was as stout as ever as Cambridge remained with the territorial advantage, although when Oxford put together some passages of play they showed the menace that they possessed in the ranks.
But it was to be Cambridge’s day as they made it back-to-back wins after their success in 2016.
Cambridge: Amesbury; O Phillips, Russell, Hennessey, King; M Phillips, Bell; Briggs, Burnett, Dixon, Koster, Hunter, Watson, Leonard, Richardson.
Replacements: Rose (Watson, 51), Hammond (Hunter, 69), Triniman (O Phillips, 69), Troughton (Koster, 78), Dean (Briggs, 78), Huppatz (Burnett, 79),
Oxford: Edgerley; David, Moor, Moorby, Stileman; Kearns, Kershaw; Henry, Elvin, Ball, Fifita, Pozniak, Talotti, Saull, Wilson.
Replacements: Waldouck (Moorby, 40), Miller (Henry, 48), McPherson (Fifita, 58), Thornton (Talotti, 60), Hogg (David, 65), Adams (Pozniak, 78), Barley (Edgerley, 79).
Scorers: 33min Bell try (5-0), 38 Kearns pen (5-3), 49 M Phillips pen (8-3), 56 Russell try (13-3), 63 Wilson try – Kearns con (13-10), 69 Amesbury try – M Phillips con (20-10).
Referee: Christophe Ridley.