Varsity match report: Women's rugby Blues fight to the bitter end

Women's rugby Blues
Image credit: Tia Knight

Despite playing an excellent game of rugby, the Cambridge women came away from Iffley Road disappointed with a loss in the Varsity match against Oxford, having hoped to overturn last year’s home loss.

Both sides played a very hard fought but scrappy match, with a lot of the play being concentrated in the centre of the pitch; predominantly in Oxford’s half as they came under constant pressure from Cambridge.

Cambridge were captained by try-scorer Jess Gurney, playing at hooker rather than her usual position of flanker, and came into this match having only lost one game in their BUCS league this season compared to Oxford’s seven losses. However, they were lacking some key players, including Tash Faulkner, the first choice hooker, whose excellent form all season was unfortunately not rewarded with a place on the Blues team due to injury. Whilst this didn’t seem to affect their strength and dominance in the scrum too badly, the late shake-up of a well-established and experienced squad going into such an emotionally charged game was always going to have a significant impact.

Despite their dominance in the scrums and at the breakdown, Cambridge conceded an early penalty to Oxford, who continued to keep the pressure up on the Cambridge defence. The Light Blues responded to the attack, but the team’s strong defence, particularly Tia Knight’s excellent tackles, couldn’t prevent Oxford’s try and conversion, taking the hosts 10-0 up.

As the first half went on Cambridge got into their stride and their attacking play stepped up a gear, with Player of the Match Sian McGuinness’ fantastic break from outside the Oxford 22 resulting in a Cambridge try from lock Stephanie Leddington at the close of the half.

Throughout the match both teams played passionately, with winger Charlotte Frost consistently making great runs and scrum-half Molly Byrne keeping control of Cambridge’s game. That said, there was a lot of scrappy play, with numerous knock-ons and dropped passes from both sides. The play was also largely concentrated in the centre of the pitch, with the backs converging on the ball rather than using the space effectively.

This, however, meant that Cambridge could utilise their powerful forwards to put real pressure on Oxford, which led to a well-deserved try from Jess Gurney, converted by Sian McGuinness, after fifteen minutes of play in Oxford’s half. With the score at 10-12 with twenty minutes to play, Cambridge fought hard to secure victory but conceded a final try, leaving the score at 17-12 to Oxford.

Oxford were fortunate to have an excellent kicker who provided the points difference, with both sides well-matched in play, scoring two tries each. Cambridge, whilst understandably disappointed, should be proud of their performance, having played some outstanding rugby and doing credit to the leaving players.

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