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Twickenham Stadium has been the traditional home of the men’s Varsity Match since 1921 and Saturday’s 150th anniversary fixture will be the 94th time the Dark and Light Blues have met at the home of English rugby.

But things might have been very different. On 12 December, 1945, Eric Bole and John Pearce led out the two great rivals for a resumption of sporting hostilities after WW2 with full Blues once again awarded to the players in both sides.

The King, the Queen and Princess Elizabeth were among a crowd of 40,000 to see the Cambridge triumph 11-6. If it felt good to be back at Twickenham, it was almost the last time the Varsity Match was played there.

Oxford, in particular, were unhappy at the financial arrangements offered by the RFU and, with the permission of Cambridge, their secretary William Summerskill, approached Wembley Stadium to see if they were willing to host the annual contest. They handsomely outbid the RFU offer at Twickenham and were willing to grass over the greyhound track and make other arrangements to ensure the success of the fixture. The RFU got wind of the possible switch, Cambridge wavered and an improved offer from Twickenham, which included a guarantee of £500 per year for three years, was accepted and he game remained where it was.

In 2015, the women’s Varsity Match was first played at Twickenham and both games have been played there every since, other than last year’s COVID-hit Varsity Matches. They were both played at Leicester Tigers’ Welford Road ground in July and were played under hybrid rules.

The switch to Twickenham came after the Varsity Match out-grew Queen’s Club, where the game was played from 1887-1920. The first game at ‘HQ’ ended in a win for Oxford, 11-5, and was played in front of a crowd of more than 20,000 on 8 December, 1921.

So strong was the Oxford side that their skipper Ewen Campbell was able to include Scotland full back Hector Forsayth, Australian half-back Tommy Lawton and future England caps James Pitman, John Maxwell-Hyslop and Leo Price. He even left out of his side Phil Macpherson, who less than a month later won the first of his 26 Scottish caps.

The Cambridge team included the multiple England Grand Slammers Ron Cove-Smith and Geoff Conway and Wavell Wakefield. Like Cove-Smith, the future Scottish international forward Dave McMyn would go on to captain the British & Irish Lions, while behind the scrum Dick Hamilton-Wicks was another huge name in the making.

THE FIRST VARSITY MATCH AT TWICKENHAM

OXFORD 11 – 5 CAMBRIDGE

Oxford: H.H Forsayth; I.J Pitman, V.R Price, A.M David, E.F Van der Riet; T Lawton, E Campbell (captain); H.L Price, J.E Maxwell-Hyslop, B.G Schoelfield, H.P Marshall, J.W Robertson, J.C Chambers, A.W.L Row, C.A Siepmann
Scorers: Treis: I.J Pitman 2, A.M David; Con: T Lawton

Cambridge: F.A Gardiner; D.D.B Cook, S Cook, R.H Hamilton-Wickes, E.R.H Seddon; K.R.J Saxon, H.B Style; R Cove-Smith (captain), G.S Conway, A Carnegie-Brown, W.W Wakefield, D.J McMyn, R.R Stokes, T.R.K Jones, D.C.D Ryder
Scorers: Try: W.W Wakefield; Con: G.S Conway

There was widespread approval of the switch from Queen’s Club. The Daily Mail wrote:

“The wisdom of transferring the University Match from Queen’s Club to Twickenham was amply proved yesterday, when many thousands more than could ever have been crowded into the West Kensington enclosure had a perfect view of the game.”