Oxford secure third Varsity on the bounce
Tom Hamilton at Twickenham
December 6, 2012
Oxford celebrate their Varsity triumph
© Getty Images
Varsity struggling in modern era?
Oxford took their third Varsity match in as many years thanks to a stunning second-half comeback which saw them beat Cambridge 26-19 at Twickenham on Thursday.
Cambridge were at one stage 19-6 ahead but three tries from Oxford were enough to secure the 131st Varsity Match. Oxford fullback-come-scrum-half Sam Egerton was the Man of the Match and he was the catalyst behind the Oxford fightback. He struck in the 51st minute with a stunning solo score and helped guide the Dark Blues to their next two tries which saw James Harris and Charlie Marr score.
And this was an Oxford team who played 60 minutes without inspirational skipper John Carter who was forced off in the first-half with a knee injury. Carter now becomes the first Oxford skipper to captain his team to back-to-back titles for 130 years and follows in the footsteps of Henry Vassell who managed the feat in 1881 and 1882.
But it was Cambridge who were in complete control during the first-half. It was a 40 minutes of rugby largely void of clean breaks and action in either team's 22 with the play dominated by the boots of Cambridge's Rob Stephen and Oxford's Cassian Bramham-Law. But while it lacked try-scoring opportunities, there were a number of big hits with Cambridge's Dugal Bain's heavy tackle on Egerton drawing gasps and cheers from the 25,133 spectators.
Stephen nudged Cambridge into a 9-0 lead with three penalties in the first 18 minutes but Bramham-Law slotted two of his own to bring the Dark Blues back into the match. The second, in the 26th minute, came following a passage of play that saw Oxford come close to crossing the Cambridge line. Second-row Will Rowlands was halted a metre from the tryline after a neat lineout move but they returned to their half with three points to their name rather than a possible seven.
The match was crying out for a try and it finally came from Cambridge in the 36th minute. Outside centre Danny Holmes made a break down the right side of the field and offloaded to winger Andrew Murdoch who cantered over much to the jubilation of the Light Blue support.
Oxford had a 10-point deficit to make up at half-time but just two minutes into the second 40, Stephen nudged over another penalty to give Cambridge some breathing space. At that stage it was all Light Blue but Oxford got back into the match thanks to a superb solo try from Egerton in the 51st minute. The fullback pirouetted around the Cambridge tackler, about 15 metres from the line, beat a further three defenders and managed to get across for the score.
Sam Egerton played a key role for Oxford © PA Photos
The try gave Oxford the required shot in the arm and they followed that up with another score just over ten minutes later. The Dark Blues were enjoying the majority of possession and eventually they transferred that into points with Harris bundling over in the corner after some patient phase play which came off the back of Oscar Vallance's break.
The Dark Blues missed the conversion which meant they still trailed by two points but they took the lead in the 69th minute thanks in part to a tactical masterstroke from their coach. The Oxford supremo James Wade had switched Egerton from fullback to scrum-half and that move paid dividends when he made a clean break inside Cambridge's half and managed to get the offload away which allowed Marr to canter over.
With the conversion that followed, Oxford were four points to the good at 23-19 and the pressure was on Cambridge to respond and they nearly did a matter of minutes later. The Light Blue pack started to roll and they forced their way close to the Oxford line but they were halted with the whitewash a metre away. And Oxford managed to clear their lines and very nearly scored a try of their own with Bramham-Law sprinting away but he was hauled down by the scrambling Cambridge defence.
But it was Oxford who emerged victorious from the match with Marr nudging over a late penalty to give the Dark Blues some breathing space and they closed out the game to secure their 56th win in the annual event.
© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.
Tom Hamilton is the Assistant Editor of ESPNscrum.
As Scotland decides its future, Scrum Sevens looks at a group of players who transcended rugby both for country and the British & Irish Lions
Ahead of November's USA-All Blacks match, America's ESPN Magazine explains rugby to its readers who may not be familiar with the game
Tom Hamilton talks to World Cup-winning captain John Smit about life after rugby, his fears over the South African exodus and the World Cup