Captain Dan Vickerman raises the trophy after Cambridge's winMichael Derringer

This was a tight yet high scoring fixture which challenged the common knowledge about the two sides as Cambridge triumphed 31-27 over their historic rivals in the 2009 Nomura Varsity match – one of the most exciting in recent history. Possibly Cambridge’s strongest asset all season has been the strength of their pack, especially in set plays, yet it was in the scrum that the Light Blues struggled most. Meanwhile, Oxford’s fast paced back line has been securing most of their tries but on the day they were shut out of the game by a well drilled Cambridge defence. This is the nature of the event and the annual Varsity match is just one of those occasions where the teams are so pumped up with anticipation that anything can happen when they take the field.

The nerves showed in the first half hour as neither side managed to gain a foothold in the game. Every play seemed to end with a knock-on as both the Light and Dark Blues struggled to retain possession for more than a couple of phases. Not even the big names like Cambridge captain Dan Vickerman and Oxford wonderboy Tim Catling were visible amongst the melee as the crowd of over 30,000 were given an eyeful of scrappy, uneasy rugby.

After 30 minutes both teams seemed to wake up and notice they were on the hallowed turf of Twickenham as the scoreboard remained empty. The tempo was upped and Oxford took the initiative first when the dark blue forwards switched on, camped out on the Cambridge line and and staged a relentless ten minute attack. First, they opted to maul the ball the ball from a lineout and pushed to within inches of the paint. Three scrums followed in quick succession in which Oxford’s forward dominance showed as they continually trundled inches closer to the line. After this tense passage of play, which required input from the fourth official, Oxford were finally awarded a penalty try.

Obviously unhappy, and trailing by seven points, the light blues came back with venom and a clear intent to even it up before the half time whistle. They almost managed it too when fullback Jimmy Richards found some space in the middle of the park to break away up the field, and if his pass had gone to a winger instead of second row Will Jones there could have been a try. As if to make amends Richards soon found space on the other side of the field and this time made sure his miss-pass went to Dave Riley who offloaded to fellow winger James Greenwood, who in turn opened Cambridge’s scoring. The conversion went wide and the teams went in for half time with the score at 7-5 in Oxford’s favour.

After the break the crowd were treated to a very different, much more professional style of play. No doubt the team talks had centred on being more clinical as the knock-ons and turnovers that plagued the first half disappeared and the match opened up. Soon both teams were attacking well with more confidence to attack out wide as well as around the breakdown. After Cambridge’s first seven points of the second half the teams took it in turn to put together well worked tries and coupled with some intelligent place kicking from Oxford fly half Ross Swanson the score line was always close. There were impressive tries from Will Jones, who stood out of a lineout to take a crash ball through the Oxford backline and under the posts, and Richards, who skipped through the opposition tackles and only just grounded the ball after fighting off what looked like half of the Dark Blues. It was this immense try along with his first half running lines and measured kicking from full back that earned Richards the man of the match award.

A gap between the teams only really emerged when Jamie Hood picked the ball up from the back of a ruck and produced a stunning solo run to increase the Cambridge lead to eleven points. The final ten minutes held one try for Oxford but it took them until the eightieth minute to find it and never looked like they were going to have enough time to claw back the match.

The four other rugby Varsity matches of the season including the U21 match, which also took place at Twickenham just before the Blues match, were taken by Oxford which put added pressure on the Cambridge boys. Despite this they overcame the nerves and produced a quality performance that makes the rest of the season, and even the disastrous U21 Varsity match (which finished 53-17 to Oxford), retreat into the back of the mind. This was the big one and Cambridge rose to the occasion for a historic win.

The Light Blues could obviously not hide their delight, whilst Oxford captain Dan Rosen had only one word for how his team was feeling: “gutted”. Above all, in front of the Sky Cameras the two teams provided an exciting game of attacking rugby for the second consecutive Varsity. If anyone doubted the prestige or importance of this duel, they need only ask victorious captain Dan Vickerman, with 54 Australian caps, about the experience.

He beamed: “That was great to see how much it means to the guys, and it means so much to me. To get up there and be holding the trophy is a pretty special experience. Games like this show the enjoyment of playing rugby. It’s an amateur game and great to see guys putting their bodies on the line. Rugby is about winning, no matter what or where you play, and for me winning out there is unforgettable.”

Follow the minute-by-minute action as it unfolded.

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