Light Blues taken apart with ruthless efficiency by an Oxford side who secured their fifth straight Varsity win on a cold afternoon at Twickenham
We lost. Again.
On a poignant afternoon at Twickenham, in which the deaths of all 55 Blues who lost their lives in the First World War were commemorated with a fitting reading and a minute of silence around the ground, there was a sense of history not often present at Varsity-level fixtures.
A timely reminder that many things are more important than sport aside, the spectacle which followed further cemented the match’s place in the history books.
After Cambridge U21s fell to a 36-12 defeat at the hands of their Oxford rivals earlier in the afternoon, it was hoped the senior side would make a better account of themselves.
Yet just past 10 minutes in, following some early pressure from both sides, the ball found its way to Oxford’s Sam Egerton following a ruck near the half way line. An explosive and mazy run left Egerton clear of his opponents and he opened scoring for the Dark Blues in a move which gave the Light Blues an early reminder of the difficult task they faced.
George Cullen converted to take the score to 7-0 and started off what was an excellent Varsity debut from the Oxford fly half.
It took just five minutes for Cambridge to reply, as the powerful Don Stevens converted a penalty from Oxford’s 22m line.
Just minutes later Cambridge found themselves further behind. Conceding a disappointing penalty kick in a dangerous position, they allowed Cullen to convert, taking the score to 10-3.
Cambridge came into their own for a brief spell, and the Light Blues’ captain Harry Peck drove his team on with a series of strong runs, applying pressure to an Oxford defence which was difficult to penetrate.
Stevens converted another penalty for Cambridge later in the half but with just two minutes left the Light Blues came under intense pressure from Oxford. The ball eventually made its way to Alexander MacDonald who scored a crucial try before Cullen once again converted with the last kick of the half. The teams went in at half time with the score 17-6 in Oxford’s favour, with only one side looking likely to make anything happen.
Cambridge’s afternoon went from bad to worse early in the second half as their crucial play-maker and only point scorer, fly half Stevens, was stretchered off with what is feared may be knee ligament damage. Inside centre, Fraser Gillies, moved into Stevens’ position in a crucial reshuffle which didn’t appear to help the side as the second half wore on.
Tom Reeson-Price made it 22-6 with a great individual try, evading two Cambridge tackles to score, whilst Cullen was unable to convert. Then less than five minutes later, in a passage of play which resulted in Cambridge’s George Smith being taken off with concussion, Oxford’s forward line drove Cambridge back with great strength, allowing an Ian Williams try to combine with another Cullen conversion to extend Oxford’s lead to 29 points to six.
With 20 minutes left in the match Cambridge were struggling to get out of their own half, and began to chase the game further in an attempt to salvage some pride from the imminent defeat.
They began to push the Dark Blues hard and may have had more luck from a fantastic breakaway switch from right to left had Oxford’s Henry Hughes not brought down Toby May with the tackle of the game.
Some excellent pressure followed inside the Oxford 22 but, in a similar fashion to the first half, Cambridge were unable to make it count. A sturdy Oxford back line proved impenetrable.
Perhaps inevitably Oxford took advantage of Cambridge’s late push, as a second elusive run from Egerton allowed him to offload to Cullen who defended himself very well to secure a further five points. He then converted to take the score to 36-6.
The rout was completed as Gus Jones was left with little work to do following a fantastic Oxford team move. Play switched quickly from right to left following extended pressure inside the Cambridge half, and Jones scored the game’s final try before one final conversion from Cullen made it 43-6.
Cambridge proved valiant in defeat, with hard tackles right until the end. Ultimately, it was a match in which they simply couldn’t compete against a vastly superior side.
The 43-6 demolition by a ruthless Oxford team makes it five straight Varsity wins for the Dark Blues, and consigns Cambridge to their heaviest ever defeat in the contest.