Blues bring home their ninth successive Varsity victory in tight affair at the HAC
Oxford claimed their ninth successive victory in this fixture but they were made to work hard for their win in one of the most competitive Varsity Matches in years. Going into the final quarter just two points separated the teams but a final flurry by the Dark Blues saw them rattle up 16 points without reply to seal the contest 24-6.
Wet conditions made handling difficult and both sides put in sterling defensive efforts but the superior kicking game of Oxford gave them a distinct edge. The Cambridge defence was tested in the opening five minutes and held firm but then they lost possession deep in their own half and their opponents took full advantage with a try from John Wylde.
Midway through the half the game was held up for 15 minutes when two Oxford players were injured in a clash of heads. On the resumption Cambridge launched their first attack but could not find a way through a stern Dark Blues defence.
Oxford went further ahead when Will Taverner crossed in the corner following a scrum which Cambridge were convinced should have been their put in. Just before the interval Oxford were reduced to 12 after wing Louis Claxton had been shown a yellow card for an attempted trip.
Still, at 8-0 the Light Blues were still in the contest although they were unable to take advantage of their numerical superiority. But after interval they enjoyed their best period of pressure and it took a terrific try-saving tackle from Marco Hiscox to deny them.
The Oxford defence was finally breeched when a speculative kick to the line was eventually touched down by Will Birch. George Griffiths converted to make it 8-6 and the real possibility of an upset was on the cards.
But this was as close as they got. Oxford stepped up their game and ran in tries through Hiscox, Nick Dodds and Mark Giza with Conor Williets converting two to wrap up the contest.
Oxford prop Phil Maffettone was named man of the match for a sterling effort up front. It was a fitting end to the American’s final year at Oxford having missed out on a Blue last year due to sustaining a broken leg the week before the Varsity Match.
Oxford: Conor Williets; Louis Claxton, Maciek Peplinski, Will Taverner, John Wylde; Mark Roper, Nick Dodds; Sven Kerneis, Angus McCance, Phil Maffettone, Marco Hiscox, Will Henshall (capt), Mark Giza. Interchange: Reilly Knight, Alex Pentecost, Ed Harris, Jordan Ayling, Harry Martin, Matt Wilson
Tries: Wylde, Taverner, Hiscox, Dodds, Giza Goals: Williets 2
Cambridge: Craig Winfield; Oliver Gnodde, Matt Brady, Sam Parker (capt), Casper Ramsay; Richard Bowen, Will Birch; Caleb Darwin, Sam Henry-Pressling, Tom Wilson, Miles Huppatz, George Griffiths, Matyas Molnar. Interchange: Henry Biddlecombe, Gerard Lyons, Tom Bewes, Hilary Foord, Jorge Albert
Tries: Birch Goal: Griffiths
Referee: Liam Rush
Maroons Varsity: Oxford 48 Cambridge 10
For the first time in nearly five years, Reserve Grade Varsity took place between the Oxford and Cambridge 2nd XIIIs on a fresh February evening at Shelford RFC. Having had a very strong season in both the league and cup, the Maroons were favourites over Cambridge 2s coming into the game, but with conditions allowing for some fast-paced rugby and with both sides geed up on Varsity adrenaline there was everything to play for.
The first half belonged to Oxford who ran in 30 points without an answer on the scoreboard from Cambridge. Tries from Jonny Wood, Aron Hegedus and Harry Williams (amongst others) capped off strong attacking shape from the Maroons whilst Martin and Harris put in excellent defensive efforts to keep Cambridge from crossing the try line.
However, with the half time whistle and the dipping of the sun below the horizon, the momentum shifted in Cambridge’s favour who capitalised on lapses in discipline by the Oxford defence. Powerful runs from Sam White carried the Cambridge side into touching distance of the try-line, before the attacking physicality of Cambridge proved too much for Oxford as the ball was bundled over the line. Despite a further goal-line scramble from the light-blues to take them to double figures and depleted resources on the Maroon’s bench, Oxford were able to regroup, playing with the attacking shape and defensive discipline that had given them the lead at half time. With a set of 3 converted tries to finish the game, Oxford won the half and with that the 2018 Reserve Grade Varsity in an encouraging advert for rugby league at both universities that will no doubt get the excitement going for the 1st XIII Varsity at the HAC in March.
Man of the Match: Bageaux Martin