Cambridge University earn thrilling late win over Oxford in 33rd Women's Varsity Match
A moment of individual brilliance was a collective reward for Cambridge University as they made it a hat-trick of wins in the 33rd Women’s Varsity Match.
It had seemed like time may be against them as they headed into the last two minutes trailing 5-3, and with line breaks at a premium.
Oxford’s defensive line, marshalled by centres Nina Jenkins and Abby D’Cruz, had been rock solid throughout, with barely a chink of light on offer to Cambridge.
Then, with quick ball from the base of a scrum from Kate Marks, fly-half Elisha Clark popped up a pass for Coreen Grant, who took centre stage.
She burst through a first tackle at pace, and then rather than get caught in the quagmires of the centre ground, the former Scotland under-18 international drifted left and round the winger to race clear and touch down.
It was a flash of inspiration that brightened up Twickenham on a gloomy day, when defences were very much on top.
Cambridge had shown their willingness to hunt as a pack and put their bodies on the line for each other, but it was that spark that had been lacking until Grant stepped forward.
There were moments, created by Marks and Hannah Vandersluis, that had got the Dark Blues scuttling back in defence, but otherwise they had held firm.
Marshalling her side from scrum-half, Oxford’s Pat Metcalfe-Jones’ kicking game was putting her team in good areas of the pitch and helping to alleviate any pressure that built.
It meant that it became a fractured and disrupted match with few periods of sustained pressure, territory or possession.
The main play was congested between the two 22s, mainly around the halfway line.
What stood out for Cambridge though was the strength of their set-piece, and in particular the scrum where loose-head prop Laura Bleehen excelled.
It was a dominant display both in the tight and loose, and there is an argument to say that the Girton College student’s work was suitably rewarded at the scrum as in another match on another day, the referee may have been inclined to penalise the Dark Blues.
Fiona Shuttleworth has set the tone for the Light Blues as captain this season, and her tackle count was hugely impressive again - as to were the yards that she made with her carries.
While the only thing lacking for Cambridge may have been those elusive line-breaks, but nothing must be taken away from the work done by Oxford to prevent them.
Having weathered an early spell of territory from Cambridge, the Dark Blues got the first try as Jessi Abele touched down on the fourth phase after a 5m scrum.
Cambridge had an immediate riposte as they earned a penalty in front of the posts which Vandersluis converted to make it 5-3.
It remained that way until two minutes from time but for much of the second half, Oxford had held the edge. They created a couple of overlaps, but disciplined last-line defence kept them at bay and Cambridge in the match.
The overwhelming thing for Cambridge has been their self-belief, born through trust in their systems and each other so they never reached the point of panic stations.
It is why, when that glimmer of light arrived for Grant to run into space, they were able to break free to grab it with both hands for a third Varsity Match win in a row.
It was certainly harsh on Oxford, but deserved for the perseverance and patience that Cambridge had demonstrated throughout the match.