Cambridge 19-26 Oxford
Three second-half tries enabled Oxford to overturn a 19-6 deficit and win their third Varsity in succession in a thrilling yet heartbreaking Twickenham showdown.
Roared on by vocal support Cambridge fought valiantly, tackled ferociously and ran resolutely but were ultimately outdone by opposition who simply refused to be beaten.
They say that it is defeat which best makes a man but when the team lay strewn despondently on the floor at the final whistle is was hard to feel either positive or constructive. After seven losses in seven Varsities, second row Scott Annett in particular has experienced enough defeat for a lifetime.
It had all started so well. The Light Blues were the quicker out of the blocks, and after infringements in the lineout and the scrum, Rob Stephen punished Oxford’s ill-discipline with two well taken penalties.
With quick ball in attack and thumping tackles in defence Cambridge were inflicting plenty of pressure and after an off the ball shoulder-barge by John Carter, Stephen (the first Kings Choral Scholar to play in Varsity for 70 years) was on hand again to stretch the lead to 9-0.
Captain Carter was forced to leave the field after suffering an injury from the same collision and as the spearhead of the 2011 victory his loss appeared a major blow for Oxford. Two penalties by Cassian Bramham-Law reduced the arrears but Cambridge sensed blood and eventually capitalised. Hugo Kelly broke free down the right and released Rob Stephen and then Will Smith who offloaded to Andy Murdoch to touch-down in the corner and give the Light-Blues a fully-deserved 10 point advantage.
After the interval another Stephen penalty briefly stretched the lead to 19-6, but Oxford were finding their range. Even without Carter the pack was formidable and was spearheaded by two players with Premiership experience in Bob Baker and James Harris, while the backs were finding greater zest and precision. After launching an impressive assault, the Cambridge defence eventually subsided when Sam Egerton evaded several tackles to score in the corner.
Egerton had been the brightest dark-blue spark throughout the match and his subsequent switch from full-back to scrum-half proved decisive. After more sustained possession he launched a beautiful floated pass for Harris to touch-down, before a sublime break and a perfectly timed offload to Charlie Marr created a third try and a first Oxford lead.
Still Cambridge rallied. A huge drive by the forwards got to within one metre but when the ball came free Abrahams kick was charged down and intercepted and a fourth score was prevented only by a heroic Will Smith tackle, after a pitch-length break by Branham-Law.
Yet with three minutes remaining Cambridge needed tries not defensive tackles and despite more attacking endeavour Oxford were too strong, and managed a further penalty through Marr before the referee blew full-time on the match and on Cambridge hopes for another 12 months.
The Oxford comeback, particularly after the early loss of Carter, was truly commendable and they certainly won the game more than Cambridge lost it. They had that extra bit of class at vital moments and in Sam Egerton they had a fully deserving man of the match.
There were in fact many positives for Rob Malaney’s team. In the midfield Holmes and Bain were superb – with the latter a one-man machine of tackling destruction – while the forwards spearheaded by Nate Brakeley also competed well in the set-pieces and the loose.
With the passing of time the Light-Blues may remember these successes and feel proud of their great effort, but at this point they will feel only the pain and disappointment of a third Twickenham loss in succession, and they will already be dreaming of 2013 revenge.
Oxford vs Cambridge Under 21s:
The under 21s encounter which preceded the Blues match followed a similar pattern of frustration for Cambridge. After scoring the first try through Chris Bluke and leading 10-9 at the break, Oxford came roaring back with four unanswered second-half tries to eventually triumph 31-17 and repeat the Dark-Blue double of 2011.
Photos to Follow.