Cambridge secured back to back victories in the Varsity MatchThe Varsity Match



Cambridge’s superior attacking was on display for all to see at Twickenham as they defeated Oxford 20-10 in the 136th Varsity Match.

With more professional experience in the fold this year, this year’s Varsity match was always going to be more unpredictable and with higher stakes. As the tune of the national anthem rung around the hallowed grounds of Twickenham the anticipation on the play faces was undeniable; after much preparation, expectation and much kinder weather conditions than the women’s game, the 136th Varsity men’s rugby match begun.

Possession and territory swung like a slow pendulum throughout the first half. Cambridge dominated the first 10 minutes; the game plan and intent very much obvious – settle in defensively with get an early score in. Indeed, in those very opening minutes the first 3 minutes fullback Buchan Richardson inched over the line but was duly denied the first try of the game, as the figure of a Dark Blue pulled him into touch before the ball was grounded.

The tide then turned on Cambridge. Oxford with quick ball and off-loads whipping around looked threatening on the attack. Cambridge were forced to draw on their defensive skill-set: bone crunching tackles and scrambling defense, both absolutely required to quell the Dark Blues’ flair. The physical effort most certainly played off. Handling errors plagued any Oxford attempt to push past a stalwart Cambridge defense. Two crucial off-loads both unable to meet their desired man: two line breaks but two turn-overs, with Cambridge captain Charlie Amesbury always centre in the counter-attacking charge.

“With every Oxford score, one could visibly see the absolute refusal from Cambridge to allow things to slip from their grasp”

As per the pendulum, the momentum was then again with Cambridge in a still score-less match. Cambridge, this time, with much faster ball in attack make it over the line, but as per the first try, the TMO is called upon only to refuse Cambridge their try attempt number two. With frustration clearly reigning, the Light Blues eventually found the resilience required to make it over the Oxford line. An Oxford scrum on the five-metre line was decisively punished by Cambridge, as scrum half Chris Bell stole the ball and grounded it safely, finally reaping the reward for the pressure they have piled on the Oxford defense. Fly half Mike Phillips, however, failed to convert, leaving the score sitting at 0-5.

Seeking just retaliation, moments later the Dark Blue flurry found itself inches from the Cambridge try line. Guilty of collapsing a rolling maul, the Light Blues now found themselves punished for an expedient attacking set piece. Oxford Captain Conor Kearns takes the decision to go for points, and, taking the penalty himself, rewarded Oxford with their first points of the game, making the score 5-3.

With the half drawing to a close the drama quickly escalated. Cambridge immediately awarded the penalty at the restart, but Phillips feeling the pressure, could not find his target. With only two minutes left to go, Oxford were quick to capitalize on the Cambridge failure to score. Again, despite the pace and space that made their attack such a threat they spill the pass once more; the talent was present but the execution lacking. A collapsed scrum by Oxford gave Cambridge a penalty moments before half time. Pinning Oxford back, Cambridge set up their own attacking platform in the dying moments of the half.

Despite a quick one two between Jack Hennessey and Andrew Hunter leading to a Cambridge try attempt, the TMO was once again called upon and identified a wayward forward pass denying Cambridge their third try of the half with 4 seconds remaining. The score at half time: 3-5.

With four balls making over the Oxford try line, and but only one try awarded one senses that Oxford is the cat with nine lives. Three TMO calls have allowed them to slink away relatively unscathed from a fairly relentless Cambridge attack. However, one can also not deny that Dark Blues have thoroughly tested their counterparts. When given the space and injections of pace, the Dark Blues looked threatening with the ball. Quick ball and fast off-loads had the Light Blues scrambling. However, executing this fast pace attack has failed Oxford, with a high error count in ball handling.

Chris Bell scored in his first Varsity Match start having been an unused substitute last yearThe Varsity Match

The second half began in the same way the first half did: feisty tackles and inspired rucking. Pressure however was applied from Cambridge from outset. Setting the tone for the half, Phillips capitalized on an awarded penalty. Booting a well-executed ball through the posts, the score rose to 3-8; an unconverted try the difference.

A very determined and gritty game leads to a 10 minute injury break as Light Blue Matt Robson is wheeled off in injury, and replaed by number 19 Henry Rose. With this unexpected pause, momentum could only go to the one that seized it, and Cambridge responded to the call. Despite a previous error where an obvious pass the in space could not find Amesbury, on the 55th minute there were no errors. Slick passing down the wing gifted Archie Russell Cambridge’s second try of the game. This time, Phillips is unable to find the posts making the score 3-13.

Determined to end the drought of points, Oxford who had not yet posed an attacking threat, ignited with inspiration. After some time knocking on the Cambridge door with a considerable attacking effort with great physical investment, they successfully shunted themselves over the line via their number 8 Will Wilson. Kearns makes little effort in converting the try, considerable shortening Cambridge’s lead to 10-13. This very much became the turning point of the match.

With every Oxford score, one could visibly see the absolute refusal from Cambridge to allow things to slip from their grasp. The last try of the game was perhaps emblematic of this mentality. Following a successful line out deep in the Oxford 22, a Light Blue driving maul made its way well over the Oxford try line. Captain Amesbury the try scorer but his surrounding team members each integral to the success of the try. In spite of a savage charge down by Oxford, Phillips clinically finishes the job at hand, sending the ball between the two posts leaving the final score at 10-20.

Man of the match Chris Bell attributed much of the success of the game on Cambridge’s great defensive effort: we ‘backed our defense’. Knowing full well that momentum ‘would swing’, denying the Oxford backs any space was crucial to their success. Indeed, Amesbury was quick to remind reporters that the Dark Blue side was by no means an easy opposition, ‘they had a great team’ with some ‘really dangerous players out there’. Cambridge however at each turn and each phase refused to accept anything but the out come they wanted, as Amesbury concluded ‘we had a bit more fight left in us’, and this ‘fight’ ultimately won Cambridge the match

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