15th March 2012
The venue may have changed, but the 32nd PCUBED Varsity match proved to be a continuation of the Dark Blue dominance of recent years. Oxford took a five match winning streak into the game at Richmond Athletic Ground, and despite second row Fred Garrett suffering a very unfortunate injury the day before, Captain Ben Calverley was able to name an extremely strong squad.
Players both dark and light blue emerged from the tunnel to a raucous Oxford-dominated crowd, baying for a fifth win in six years. The opening exchanges were physical and tight, and it took a flowing Oxford move starting on the right hand side to break the deadlock. The ball was worked through several pairs of hands to left centre Ali Shipman, who powered through a hole in the defence and dummied the oncoming Cambridge full back to score under the posts. Right centre Matt Henshaw added the extra two.
From there on in there was only one winner, and this time it was Henshaw who found space on his side to go through and round the full back to score under the posts. After that Shipman again found space wide on the left within minutes of the restart, this time putting powerful winger Chuky Okpalugo in to score. Henshaw duly made it 18-0. Cambridge began to wilt under relentless Oxford pressure, and halves Calverley, Baker and Ben Claxton took control, ruthlessly moving the ball around the park. Number 7 Jack Baker had a particularly impressive kicking game, turning the Light Blue back three time and again and restricting the dangerous Greg Cushing’s impact from full back. When Cambridge did manage to get their hands on the ball, they found a merciless Oxford defensive line all along the pitch. Full back Robbie Cowan and wingers Okpalugo and Ben Quigley helped the effort immeasurably with the excellent kick returns that have been their hallmark all season.
All of this meant Oxford raced away towards half time with further tries from Shipman and a lovely solo effort from Claxton stretched the score out to 28-0 to the Dark Blues at half time.
At the start of the second half, interchange hooker John Bremridge looked lively around the ruck area, and there was a sense of inevitability about proceedings when Claxton went over on the left to set Oxford on their way again. Henshaw was unlucky to see his attempted conversion rebound off the post, sending the score to 32-0. The prospect of a third successive Varsity defeat then obviously stirred some pride in the Cambridge ranks, as they stiffened their resolve after this. For around ten minutes they were camped on the Oxford line, unlucky not to open their account on more than one occasion. Influential prop forward Josh Halstead thought he had broken the deadlock when he collected an interception on his own try line, only to be called back for an offside decision.
However this was Oxford’s night; and heroic defence from interchange Phil Beak and all the Oxford men helped propel Coach Garbutt’s side into the Cambridge half once more. The flowing rugby of the first half shone through yet again, winger Quigley breaking down the flank to send veteran full back and club President Cowan over for his first of the night. When Beak burrowed over to the left of the posts to make it 42-0 with ten minutes remaining, there was only one question left to settle. Could Oxford get one more try to surpass the biggest ever winning margin of 44 points set by Cambridge in 2006 and themselves in 2011? This Oxford side, on this night, was not to be denied, and on the final hooter Cowan grabbed his second. Henshaw’s boot gave him a personal haul of sixteen points, and lifted the final score to Oxford 48, Cambridge 0.
Ali Shipman was fittingly awarded the Bob Mahuta trophy for Man of the Match, having been one of the stand-out Oxford players all through the season. The 32nd PCUBED Varsity Match was a truly historic night for Dan Garbutt’s men, as they set three new records. The Dark Blues kept Cambridge off the score sheet for the first time ever, set the new highest ever winning margin in the match’s history, and won Oxford’s third Varsity Match in a row for the first time. Cambridge now only lead the series 16-15 (with one draw), roll on 2013...
OXFORD (28) 48
R Cowan, B Quigley, A Shipman, M Henshaw, C Okpalugo, B Claxton, J Baker, H Fearon, B Calverley (c), J Halstead, J Cilliers, E Dick, G Coates.
Interchanges: E Cope, L Jagoe, P Beak, J Bremridge.
Tries: Shipman (2), Henshaw, Okpalugo, Claxton (2), Cowan
CAMBRIDGE (0) 0
G Cushing, C Holland, R Grace, H McAleer, M Jaffer, A Winfield, T Elton, F Bromley, J Bousher, T Hillel, M Commin, G Laing, A Devane.
Interchanges: N Hewett, C Sturrock, R Hodnett, C McKeon.
Referee: George Stokes