Ex-England international Toby Flood roused his Cambridge side to a 17-point unanswered run in the second halfMatt Impey

Oxford made it two wins in a row by defeating a 14-man Cambridge side in the 140th Varsity Match at Twickenham earlier today (2/4).

It seemed the Dark Blues had been revising their sporting clichés in the run-up to this year’s fixture, as they took ‘a game of two halves’ to the extreme after almost forfeiting a 21-0 half-time lead, but managed to hold on for the 21-17 win.

Excitement was high in anticipation of this year’s Varsity clash, the first to be played in front of a Twickenham crowd since 2019, particularly given the presence of former England fly-half Toby Flood in Cambridge’s ranks, with 60 international caps, including a World Cup Final, under his belt.

Oxford’s internationals, however, outnumbered the Light Blues’, with American trio Eric Fry, Nick Civetta, and Andrew Durutalo being joined by Hong Kong’s Alex Post in the pack.

This crop of Dark Blue internationals asserted their scrum dominance just second into the game, nearly forcing a penalty marginally outside the Cambridge 22. This set the tone for the half, one dominated by Dark Blue possession, territory, and points. 

Scrum-half Charles Favell in action for Cambridge, making his second Varsity appearanceMatt Impey

It wasn’t long before the first try was bundled over for the defending champions. Ten minutes in, Oxford’s scrum-half Callum Grant broke through in the centre of the Cambridge 22, throwing a lovely dummy and offloading to winger Luke Wyllie who scored under the posts. Reliable fly-half David Wilkinson duly added the extras to make it 7-0. 

The play didn’t immediately restart though, as a TMO check revealed Cambridge lock Charlie Friend had cynically stamped on the head of Nick Civetta during a ruck in the build-up to the try. Without hesitation or protest, Friend was sent off by referee Andrew Jackson.

Cambridge were down to fourteen and had a mountain to climb. To make matters worse, Light Blue captain Stephen Leonard was forced off through injury, making way for returning Blue Demi Obembe in the face of Oxford’s heavy advantage.

Safe to say, the Dark Blues capitalised. For the next ten, it seemed every Oxford phase went beyond the gain line, while Cambridge’s discipline was faltering.

Soon enough, Oxford bagged their second try, as Civetta went over after some sustained pressure on the try line. After TMO confirmed the try, Wilkinson slotted a brilliant conversion from a tight angle for 14-0, as the game looked primed for a Light Blue battering.

Toby Flood plans to retire from playing rugby at the end of this seasonMatt Impey

Shortly after the restart, Cambridge fly-half Toby Flood put in an especially crunching tackle in an effort to set the tone for a Light Blue side strewn with mistakes in the line-out, handling errors, and annihilation in the scrum.

In spite of Flood’s efforts to motivate his team, ex-USA international Andrew Durutalo was getting a lot of joy for Oxford, barrelling through missed tackle after missed tackle. Durutalo’s excellence was soon rewarded, as an Oxford scrum on five metres led to pressure on the line that allowed the number eight to bundle over. Wilkinson again added the extras and, after 33 minutes, Oxford had scored 21 unanswered points. 

For the rest of the half, Oxford continued their set-piece dominance and Cambridge’s errors and poor discipline mounted, but the score remained the same. Cambridge’s Dougal Russel did especially well to hold the ball up to prevent a fourth Oxford try, and incessant pressure from Oxford on the Light Blue try line ultimately came to nothing.

Despite the odd familiar handling error from Cambridge in the second half’s opening exchanges, proceedings immediately looked more positive and, although not changing the score after some lovely breaks, Cambridge found themselves in the Oxford 22 far more often than in the first 40 minutes.

Cambridge’s Demi Obembe produced the moment of the match with his try late onMatt Impey

In the 55th minute, Oxford’s Durutalo was substituted after an excellent showing, while Cambridge were camped on the Dark Blue try line.

A cross-field kick found Cambridge’s Russell far beyond the try-line, but the TMO judged that he didn’t ground the ball before it crossed the dead-ball line. Cambridge were left ruing their missed chance, as a lighter kick would surely have resulted in a score.

Soon after, the Light Blues were once again denied by the TMO, as Flood launched a delightful chip through that was deemed to be just about grounded by the Oxford full-back.

Finally, Cambridge scored a well-deserved try in the 68th minute. Sustained Light Blue pressure, in spite of their numerical disadvantage, resulted in a simple 5-metre line-out that was well gathered and led to Luke Parry grounding it at the back of a driving mall. Jamie Benson’s conversion hit the post from a tight angle, leaving the score at 21-5. 


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Seconds later, however, Cambridge had a second, and the comeback looked on. Substitute Demi Obembe proved why the Varsity Match should remain at Twickenham with a phenomenal try, running the best part of 70 metres to ground in the corner after a superb offload from Daniel Montesino Jones. It was a moment that justified the entrance fee alone. Again, Benson agonisingly hit the post from a tight angle, making it 21-10.

Oxford ran down the clock for the next ten, offering little attacking threat until Cambridge finally scored a consolation try with the clock in the red. Alex King finished well, as the ball was spun wide after Cambridge had camped on the opposition try line. Benson slotted a tidy drop goal conversion to bring full time and the score to 21-17.

Ultimately, it was the width of a rugby post that was the difference between the sides, as Benson’s missed conversions were all that split the teams. Despite their shocker in the first period, Cambridge’s 14 gave an impressive account of themselves and put in an incredible second-half shift. In the end though, Oxford’s scrum dominance in the first period proved too much for the men in light blue.


Cambridge Starting XV: Jamie Benson (Downing), Dougal Russell (St John’s)*, Suwi Chibale (Queens’)*, Max Loveridge (Jesus)*, Tim Andrew (Jesus), Toby Flood (Queens’), Charles Favell (Homerton)*, Ben Jackson (Sidney Sussex)*, James Wright (Jesus), Matt Pettit (Clare)*, Charles Friend (St John’s), Zac Bischoff (St John’s)*, Stephen Leonard (Captain, Emmanuel)*, Tom Walton (St John’s)*, Archie Smeaton (Queens’)*

Cambridge Replacements: Luke Parry (Downing)*, Patrick Harris (Hughes Hall), Laurence Marwood (St Edmund’s), Jason Kururangi (St Edmund’s)*, Demi Obembe (Churchill)*, Daniel Montesino Jones (St John’s), David Holdroyd (Jesus), Alex King (St Catharine’s)*, Angus Peters (TR, Wolfson), Sam Odu (TR, Gonville & Caius)

Oxford Starting XV: Sam Reynolds, Luke Wyllie, Liam Furniss, Louis Jackson*, Henry Hackett*, David Wilkinson, Callum Grant*, Tom Osborne, Alex Post, Eric Fry, Piers Von Dadelszen*, Nick Civetta, Euan Friend*, Mungo Mason, Andrew Durutalo* 

Oxford Replacements: Louis Wright*, Gus Conningham, Barnaby Vaughan*, Ed Blake, Charlie Papworth*, Tom Humberstone*, Oscar Marriott-Clarke*, Arthur Friend, Ben Scher (TR)

*Denotes Blue

Referee: Andrew Jackson