Captain of Cambridge University Women’s Rugby Football Club (CURUFCW) Alice Middleton had predicted tries, and Light Blue tries at that. In the end, there were neither.
The Light Blues romped home last year – thanks to hat-tricks from Anna Wilson and Alice Middleton, topped off by tries from Chloe Withers and Lara Gibson – recording the greatest winning margin ever in the then-29-year history of the fixture. However, just one year after storming to a historic victory in the first women’s Varsity match to be played at Twickenham, the reigning champions came away after an agonising 3–0 defeat to their perennial rivals.
From the off, the match had all the makings of a try-less game. Whenever CURUFCW had the ball in hand, it would soon find itself knocked on, an infringement the Light Blues were guilty of on many occasions.
And their carelessness was ultimately their undoing. Oxford University Women’s Rugby Football Club (OUWRFC) – who welcomed their opponents’ charitable approach play with open arms – obviously sensed an opportunity to strike early on. Dark Blue full-back Sophie Trott made the pick of the early runs, evading one, evading two, before being brought down by the ankles by a last-ditch challenge by Lara Gibson. The fleet-footed number 15 was the standout performer in an otherwise rather dour affair.
Yet the match-winning blow was struck not through any agile forward play or incisive passing, but from a CURUFCW knock-on, under little pressure, which gave the Dark Blues a put-in at the scrum close to the Light Blues' 22-metre line. The Light Blues regained possession, before the CURUFCW four conceded a needless penalty for holding onto the ball in the ruck. Indeed, it seemed CURUFCW just could just not stop infringing, undermining the application and work rate of the brilliant Jess Charlton, whose charges through Dark Blue lines were a sight to behold.
Last year's hat-trick scorer, Alice Middleton, looked the most likely to make something happen for the Light Blues. When she collected the ball, the atmosphere would take itself up more than a notch and CURUFCW started to run a little more, fight a little more, and believe a little more.
But she came up against an opposite number in superb form: OURFCW's Sophie Trott was the easy choice for the player of the match award. From first whistle to last, she was more than equal to the player who had put 27 points past the Dark Blues alone just a year before.
At 28 minutes, Middleton made one of her characteristic jinking runs forward, making about 50 metres of ground, spinning here, ducking there and, but for Trott, it was another Varsity try for their CURUFCW skipper. And when Light Blue Laura Suggitt had the try-line well in sight in the second half, it was only Trott who could keep her at bay, stepping into the challenge with impeccable timing.
Trott was not the only Dark Blue player to stand out. With three minutes of the first half still to be played, Charlton's break for the OURFCW line was to be stopped by Elmarie van Heerden, with the lock superbly disrupting CURUFCW’s forward momentum throughout the match.
This game was to be won and lost at full-back. Sophie Trott evaded a series of Light Blue challenges soon after the restart, and with only Middleton to beat, and a first OURFCW try at Twickenham in sight, the CURUFCW captain more than let her opponent know she was there. Though, predictably, a promising attack she instigated five minutes later was stopped in its tracks by her team’s umpteenth knock-on of the afternoon.
It was only in the dying stages that the game instead roared into life. The Dark Blues, who had scarcely crossed the Oxford 22-metre line in the first half, spent the final ten minutes camped out behind it. Fly-half Kate Marks pushed the ball out wide left in the direction of Chloe Withers, try-scorer a year ago. But Withers was not to repeat the feat, the ball held up on the try-line and OUWRFC awarded a scrum when the game looked set to turn on its head.
The Light Blues came no closer. That 52–0 rout of last year could hardly feel further away
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