Cambridge Men Battle Past Oxford to Complete Varsity Double

Lewis Thomas 7 December 2017
Image Credit: Lewis Thomas

Men’s Rugby Varsity: Cambridge 20 – Oxford 10

“They came on in the same old way, and we beat them in the same old way.”

That’s what Wellington said after Waterloo; the same could today be said of Cambridge, who made it two Varsity victories in a row at Twickenham.

Cambridge kicked off proceedings by piling the pressure on Oxford, with a press in the Oxford half almost producing a try within three minutes. Things changed as Oxford started to push into the Cambridge half, with a line out giving way to a scrum on the Cambridge 22, only for Cambridge to wrestle back possession and send the ball downfield.

Cambridge followed the ball, storming up the pitch and hauling themselves across the line – the ref went to the TMO, eventually deciding that there had been no try. Opportunity had danced coyly in front of Cambridge, before slipping up on the banana skin of reality.

Things got entertaining half an hour in, when Chris Bell popped out of a scrum to score for the Light Blues – Bell missed the conversion, leaving the scoreline at 5-0. Oxford soon closed the distance with a penalty, with Kearns slotting it through to make it 5-3. Things were close, and half time loomed.

Then Hennessey came screaming through. Taking a flat pass, he raced past the Oxford defence, neatly scoring to the cheers of the crowd. 10-3 at half-time; the Light Blues were on form.

Turned out it was a forward pass. Back to 5-3.

If the first half had been frustrating for Cambridge, they didn’t show it; they began the second half in style, pressurising Oxford and keeping their defence tight. Phillips kicked for Cambridge, bringing it to 3-8.

Wilson almost sneaked through for Oxford, only to be downed – the Light Blue defence was tight, and so was the scoreline. With half an hour left, the game remained open.

Cambridge pressed on, with Archie Russell scoring to put the Light Blues on 13. They continued to make life hard for Oxford, only to run into trouble when Wilson broke through and scored. Kearns managed to convert, bringing it to 8-13. Oxford didn’t lead, but they were nipping at Cambridge’s heels. With twenty minutes left, there was suddenly everything to play for. Oxford fans smelled blood. Cambridge fans inched to the edge of their seats.

Then Amesbury shot through to give some breathing space to the Light Blues. Just to be sure, Phillips converted, making it 20-10. With nine minutes to go, things were looking good.

And they remained so. Oxford threw themselves into it, with their defence preventing any further Cambridge points, while their attack tried to even things up. But it wasn’t enough – they tried, they pushed, but they couldn’t get through. An attempt in the 77th minute seemed to run into a brick wall, and then it was a matter of formalities – the clock ticked, the crowd yelled, and the whistle went.

And it was all over. Cambridge had managed to get the double, after a mixed season. Amesbury attributes the team’s victory in part to this, observing that “we had a little more fight”, after spending time in “darker places during the season.” Oxford had had a good season, whereas Cambridge had had to deal with some nasty losses. On the formula for the match, Amesbury was clear – “We kept our defence hard, kept it strong, and they couldn’t find a way through.”

Cambridge’s game was underpinned by confidence – Bell (9, man of the match) argues that even when Oxford were getting points on the board, Cambridge only had to “hold out, let it swing”, in the knowledge that “we’d get the momentum eventually.” They played well – both technically and psychologically, and that was enough to bring victory. For Amesbury, his final match was a well fought victory – he can go out on a high.

Oxford will go away as losers twice in a row, but they can be proud of how they played. They constantly pushed at Cambridge, turning the match into a tense affair marked by moments of brilliance. As with the Women’s Varsity, they leave with their pride.

But not with the victory – this year, that stays in Cambridge.