Varsity Rugby: Cambridge Women make history with 52-0 win

Elsa Maishman 11 December 2015

No wonder Cambridge were so keen to take their game to Twickenham.  On the occasion of the first women’s Varsity Match to be played at this arena, tries from Alice Middleton, Lara Gibson and Anna Wilson put CURFCW on the right side of a 52-0 drubbing, bettering this March’s record of 47-0 against the same opposition.

Truth be told, a Cambridge victory in this fixture was never really in doubt.  Though Oxford showed their class at brief intervals, with a series of runs that gave the Cambridge defence much to think about, the momentum stayed with the imperious Light Blues for most of the game.  Kicking off at the first whistle, Cambridge took up territory in the Oxford half that the Dark Blues could not consistently regain.  

That said, you would be hard pressed to find someone who could have seen such a Herculean effort coming. At times, it seemed as if the occasion, and let’s not understate how historic it was, was showing itself in some jittery forward play from both teams, as neither the Dark nor Light Blues could find any rhythm.  For the first fifteen minutes, the ball changed hands countless times, both teams still wading through unchartered waters.  

Then, the game turned. With a quarter of an hour gone, a Cambridge scrum drove towards the Oxford try-line.  An impressive series of interplay by the Cambridge forward line saw Alice Middleton to pick up wide right, whose footwork took her past the left-hand side of the Oxford defence, and even bought her the time to put the ball down underneath the posts, easing the pressure on the conversion she coolly dispatched to put Cambridge 7-0 to the good.  

In their attempts to regain whatever space they could find, the Oxford women resorted to a series of up-and-under kicks, to which the Light Blues were always equal.  Each time the ball left an Oxford boot and found Cambridge hands, it soon found its way in the possession of Wilson, Middleton and Gibson, whose almost telepathic understanding allowed them to cause Oxford all sorts of problems down the right flank.  

If this was the game-plan from Cambridge, then it worked. 32 minutes in, Lara Gibson went over for Cambridge’s second try of the day, as another Oxford kick was brought under Cambridge control. Star-turn Alice Middleton stepped up to convert, but skewed a kick high and wide of the Oxford posts. 

12-0 the scoreline, and that missed conversion from Middleton seemed to have given the Dark Blues team, and their fans, a renewed belief. Every time they found themselves in possession, the low roof of Twickenham stadium turned chants for Oxford into an almighty roar.  And for the last ten minutes of the first half, the Oxford team started to show signs of real class, as Cambridge struggled to repel waves of attacks.  

One of the perils of sports reporting is how quickly everything can change. This reporter’s half-time notes were categorical in stating that the half-time scoreline of 12-0 had no chance of matching this March’s 47-0 drubbing at Grange Road.

Those notes were torn up on 47 minutes, when Fitzwilliam-based flanker Chloe Withers benefited once again from some tremendous play wide right by Gibson and Middleton, finding herself in just enough space to put the Light Blues 19-0 to the good when Middleton stepped up to convert. The Cambridge full-back, designated kicker for today’s match, added another try just minutes later, when Chloe Withers, somehow, could not convert for a try. Anna Wilson’s penalty gave Cambridge a line out within touching distance, and Withers, hovering frustratingly above the line, was pushed back at the last gasp by the Oxford defence, though the ball soon found itself in Middleton’s hands once more, who dispatched Cambridge’s fourth of the occasion.  The honour of converting her own kick failed to faze her, as she put the Light Blues into a commanding 26-0 lead.

Having put clear daylight between themselves and the Dark Blues, Cambridge turned on the style, playing the ball quickly at the back, almost daring Oxford to force a breakaway. They didn’t, and Anna Wilson’s audacious kick behind the Oxford defence saw the ball out on the right yet again.  Wilson collected after a series of brilliant play from Donaldson and Withers, slamming the ball down under the posts for 31-0.  Middleton stepped up, Middleton converted, and 33-0 was the score with just over twenty minutes remaining.

If things had started to feel predictable, they needn’t have done.  When Anna Wilson picked up the ball scarcely two minutes later, no one foresaw the unbelievable fifty-metre run she embarked upon, utterly flummoxing the Oxford team, none of whom could get even near the mercurial midfielder as she twisted and turned her way past the hapless Dark Blues. It was a try truly worthy of the occasion, and the arena. When Middleton put away the conversion, at 40-0, a repeat of the 47-0 began to feel inevitable, when it had felt unthinkable just 30 minutes previously.

Whatever wind Oxford still had was knocked out of their sails.  Exhausted, they conceded a line-out ten minutes from time, put in by the also excellent Jess Charlton, and Alice Middleton picked up the ball yet again.  Obviously not to be outdone by her teammate, Middleton surged through the Oxford defence, in an almost carbon-copy of Wilson’s splendid effort.  Her second try of the day rounded off her-top class performance. '‘You always back yourself that you can do it,'’ said Middleton, '‘I was listening out for people supporting me, and when you make a break, you have to keep going and head for that try-line.'’  Though Wilson failed to convert, at 45-0, Cambridge were sniffing blood.

With two minutes left on the clock, it came back to Wilson, who had making history on her mind. Another breakaway run, straight through a depleted Oxford defence, made her the scorer of the second hat-trick in the first women’s Varsity Match to be played at Twickenham Stadium. Player of the match Middleton converted once more, taking twenty-nine points on her own and rounding off an historic day for the women’s game with a final score of 52-0 to Cambridge.