Twickenham renews Varsity Match contract

Image credit: Lewis Thomas

The Varsity Match and the Rugby Football Union (RFU) have struck a new four-year contract for the women’s and men’s fixtures to continue to be played at Twickenham Stadium with the 100th anniversary of the men’s Varsity Match at the prestigious venue on the horizon.

“We are excited to extend our long and proud history of hosting The Varsity Match at the home of England Rugby,” Varsity Match Chief Executive David Searle said. "As we move together into this historic period we look forward to growing and developing the event further with the RFU and our partners over the next four years and celebrating the 100th anniversary at Twickenham in 2021."

“We're delighted to welcome back Oxford and Cambridge Universities to Twickenham for the men's and women's Varsity Matches,” RFU Chief Executive Stephen Brown commented. “This is one of rugby's oldest fixtures and we look forward to hosting this great contest for four more years."

The extended agreement will run from 2018 to 2021, an important time for the fixture as the women’s Varsity celebrates its 30th anniversary next year and Oxford University Rugby Football Club (OURFC) its 150th anniversary in 2019, before 2022 will mark 150 years since the foundation of Cambridge University Rugby Union Football Club (CURUFC) and the Varsity Match itself.  

The Match was held at Oxford’s University Parks and Parker’s Piece in its first two years before moving to London, staged at The Oval, Richardson’s Field, Rectory Field and then remaining at the Queen’s Club from 1887 to 1920.

In 1908, the RFU spent £5,500 on a 10-and-a-quarter acre market garden that was used to grow cabbages. The first stands of Twickenham Stadium were erected on the old patches soon after, and in 1909 Harlequins defeated Richmond by four points in the first ever clash on the hallowed turf. England v Wales became the first international test match there a year later in front of 22,000 spectators. During World War One, the stadium returned to its agricultural roots, adopted for cattle, horse and sheep grazing. Three years after the end of the war, the mainstay of the Oxbridge sporting calendar finally moved to the home of England Rugby. The alliance since has been crucial to the Varsity’s sustained popularity and evolution.

Increasingly, as we have seen with the Boat Race, the Match has become an important opportunity for the two University Rugby Clubs to break down pejorative perceptions of the sport as a shibboleth for public schoolboys. The game is often one of the first experiences school pupils from across the country have of attending a match at Twickenham, and there are also a number of access events on match day aimed at raising awareness of the opportunities and education pathways open to students. The women’s Match has also become one of the biggest domestic women’s rugby matches in the UK. Both ties are broadcast on BBC TV and local radio – although audiences are reportedly dwindling and the women’s fixture was relegated to the red button this year.

While the Light Blues were downed 24-6 in the men’s rugby league Varsity earlier this month, they reigned at Twickenham last December with a double victory. The women thrashed the Dark Blues 24-0 before the Cambridge men secured back-to-back Varsity wins for the first time in a decade with a 20-10 triumph. Oxford currently lead the women’s series 19-12, while Cambridge’s men have the edge 63-59 with 14 games drawn.

The Varsity Match 2018 is scheduled for Thursday 6 December. Discounted Early Bird tickets are on sale now from £20 for adults and £10 for students and juniors. For further information or to book tickets visit www.thevarsitymatch.com

 

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