Varsity Rugby League: Oxford too good for the Green Lions

Charlie Palmer 11 March 2013

Cambridge’s rugby league players have not enjoyed a great deal of success against their Oxford counterparts in recent years. The Green Lions went into this year’s Pcubed Varsity Match last Friday looking for their first win since 2009 after record defeats in 2012 and 2011.

Cambridge captain Tim Hillel said in his pre-match interview that the intensity in training had “stepped up” this year and cited his side’s impressive performance in the BUCS league this year. Cambridge went into the match more confident than in those two heavy defeats.

The McConnel Cup was contested at the Honourable Artillery Company in London for the first time and a sizeable crowd turned up to cheer on both sides. Perhaps Sky Sports’ disappointing decision this year to stop broadcasting the match live persuaded those who would have watched it on television to buy a ticket.

Before the main event, Oxford’s second team enjoyed an impressive victory in their match. However, when the first team game started, it was clear from kick-off that this was a stronger Cambridge side than the ones brushed aside in the previous two encounters. The Green Lions enjoyed plenty of possession in the first half and repeatedly threatened the Oxford try line.

It was the Dark Blues, though, who struck first with an early try from hooker James Smith. Fifteen minutes later, Cambridge showed Oxford they would have to try harder this year, hitting back with a try of their own through Sam Roberts. Although Oxford scored two more tries before half-time to lead 16-4, the score-line did not reflect the relative performances in the first half. Oxford benefitted from more than their fair share of luck, including an interception that led to a breakaway try. The game was still far from over.

Unfortunately for Cambridge, Oxford began to pull ahead in the second half. Scoring the first try after half-time was always going to be important for Hillel’s side. However, it was Oxford who registered the first score after the break and when substitute Ali Shipman ran half the length of the pitch to the Cambridge line to extend the deficit to over 20 points, the game was all but over.

Cambridge players’ heads dropped. They finally seemed to accept that this was not going to be their year. The final score was 4-32, a very comfortable win for Oxford in the end. The Dark Blues were certainly the better team overall, but the result did not do justice to Cambridge’s impressive first-half performance.

Although the players were naturally disappointed to lose the most important match of the season, it cannot be denied that CUARLFC are quickly catching up with Oxford and the next few years’ Varsity Matches will be very interesting indeed.

Charlie Palmer