Oxford take the 130th Varsity
Tom Hamilton from Twickenham
December 8, 2011
Man of the match Karl Outen plucks a lineout © Getty Images
Oxford took the 130th Varsity match in a pulsating affair beating their perennial rivals Cambridge 28-10 at Twickenham.
Twickenham has taken a battering in recent times. The Barbarians underperformed on the hallowed turf a matter of a fortnight ago but the Varsity did its best to alleviate the gloom surrounding the Rugby Football Unions' HQ. And in front of a crowd of 27,255 - all braving the elements - the two sides performed admirably in a high-tempo affair laden with clean line breaks, big hits and the old much-missed rolling maul.
And tries from Will Kane, Karl Outen and Tom Mitchell were enough to give Oxford their biggest win since 1988. The navy blues were in inspired form throughout the 80 minutes with skipper John Carter leading from the front and putting in a series of huge hits to keep his side on the front-foot. And aided by his lieutenant and man of the match second-row Outen, Oxford's pack - with seven previous Blues - set the stall for a convincing performance in every facet of their game.
But it was the Cambridge front-five - despite wholesale changes from last year's fixture - who looked to hold the early ascendancy and they set their stall from the off with a powerful driving maul and drew the penalty from referee Dave Pearson which Steve Townend dispatched with aplomb. But this clearly riled Oxford and their captain Carter - sporting a look commonly associated with his former Sale Sharks team-mate Sebastian Chabal - who set out his expectations for the rest of his side with a series of monster hits. And it was his hit which forced a turnover to give Cassian Branham Law the ball in space to allow him to exploit a dishevelled Cambridge defence with Kane eventually bundling the ball over the line for the first score of the match in the sixth minute.
A penalty from Branham Law - following his earlier conversion - extended Oxford's lead in the tenth minute. Oxford sustained pressure on the Cambridge line in the passages of play following, but the light blues of Cambridge capitalised on Carter being forced to withdraw from the match to the blood-bin - following a cheap shot from his Cambridge counterpart Dave Allen- to get themselves back in the match.
A kick and chase from their fullback Tom O'Toole created panic in the Oxford defence in the 22nd minute as they failed to grab hold of the increasingly slippery ball and after Don Blake attempted to ground the ball, O'Toole pounced on the loose pill for what he thought was their first score of the match. Dave Pearson - referee for the day - opted to check with the Television Match Official and the result was a five-metre scrum.
And with Oxford minus their inspirational skipper, they buckled under the scrum with Pearson wasting no time in awarding the penalty try. Branham Law soon got Oxford back in front with a well struck penalty for the final score of the first-half. But the half ended on an East Midlands-derby-esque note with Carter seeking retribution for the earlier punch by bundling Robert Stevens into touch with a brawl ensuing.
But it was all Oxford in the second-half. They scored the first of their 15 unanswered points in the in the 46th minute with Outen plucking a lineout and marshalling his forward pack over the line. While Branham Law failed to add the extras from the tee, it did little to deter Oxford who kept the intensity up on their Cambridge counterparts. The light blues did their best to halt the navy blue charge but it was naive play which put them back under pressure with Cambridge favouring playing the ball out of their own 22 when clearing their lines would have been a more sensible option.
And in the 55th minute, Oxford extended their lead through the boot of Branham Law and come the 71st minute - following a series of rolling mauls and forward orientated rugby - Oxford had their match-winning score. Fly-half Mitchell was superb throughout marshalling his backs and it was his darting run which gave the navy blues their final try. From an attacking lineout - a facet of Oxford's play which impressed throughout - the ball was spun to Mitchell who managed to sidestep his way through the Cambridge defence to cross the line before being mobbed by his team-mates.
Cambridge finished the match in the ascendancy but it proved to be in vain as Oxford held on to record the victory and take the bragging rights for the next year.
Oxford University: Jon Hudson (Lincoln); Sean Morris (Trinity), Sebastian Perkins (St Edmund Hall), Gavin Turner (Kellogg), Cassian Bramham-Law (Hertford); Tom Mitchell (Kellogg), Sam Egerton (Keble); Hamish Macdonald (Wadham), Govind Oliver (Green Templeton), Will Kane (University), Karl Outen (St Edmund Hall), Tom Evans (St Hugh's), Derek Asbun (Kellogg), Louis Mather (University), John Carter (Kellogg, Captain)
Replacements: Anthony Connor (Keble), Lewis Anderson (University), Jason Law (Kellog), Jamie Durward (Kellogg), Ruairi O'Donavon (Exeter), Harry Guinness (St Antony's), Matt Janney (Oriel), Jonathan Direen (Kellogg)
Cambridge University: Tom O'Toole (St Edmund's); Paul Loudon (St Edmunds), Matt Guinness-King (St Catharine's, Captain), Kristian Cook (Hughes Hall), Robert Stevens (Jesus); Steve Townend (Downing), Don Blake (Hughes Hall); William Briggs (Magdalene), Nigel Conroy (Hughes Hall), Stuart Brown (Clare), Jason Kururangi (St Edmunds), Scott Annett (Clare), Ben Martin (St Catharine's), Rob Malaney (St Edmund's), Dave Allen (Pembroke)
Replacements: Mark Murdoch (St Edmunds), Frank Sanders (Magdalene), Sam Young (Emmanuel), Ollie Wolfe (Christ's), Sam Hunt (Girton), Greg Cushing (Ridley Hall), Mathonwy Thomas (St John's), Fergus Austin (Gonville/Caius)
© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.
Tom Hamilton is the Assistant Editor of ESPNscrum.
Firdose Moonda looks at the moves towards greater integration within South African rugby ... and what the future holds
Martin Gillingham looks ahead to what he believes is the most remarkable ever climax to the league phase of the Top 14
With just two rounds left in the regular season, we look at the prospects of the teams taking part in the Championship play-offs
Joe Simpson talks to Charlie Morgan about loss, Wasps and being England's game-breaker