The Varsity Matches’ next chapter will be written on March 25th 2023 at Twickenham Stadium. As with every year, this current crop of players will have the chance to earn their place amongst the Varsity Match greats that have come before them.
Let us take a look at two previous players who have earned their place amongst the pantheon of icons of the Varsity Matches.
The Stuff of Legends
There have been plenty of characters and supremely talented players that have donned one of the shades of blue during the iconic Varsity Matches over the last 150 years.
First up is Richard Sharp, who has earned his place in a multitude of ‘greatest England XVs of all time’ for his mercurial exploits. So good was Sharp at fly half in his freshman trial for Oxford in 1959, that he seemed destined for a starting berth in the Varsity Match. However, ‘September heel’ threatened to scupper his chances, and when A.N.OTHER (a cunning ploy to fool the opposition) was named on the team sheet in his place it seemed his explosion onto the Battle of the Blues scene had been derailed. However, a trip to Chelsea Football Club’s physio provided the healing touch and Sharp starred in the 1959 game that saw Oxford defeat Cambridge 9-3. His performance that day set him up for a glittering England career that would see him collect 14 caps, scoring one of England’s greatest-ever tries against Scotland, and gain the adulation of many across the world who were mesmerised by his ability.
So jaw-dropping were Sharp’s displays for Oxford and England that author and keen rugby fan, Bernard Cornwell named his Napoleonic hero Richard Sharpe after the fly half in his famous series of novels: Sharpe. Sharp really was the stuff of legends!
From Karate Mats to the Varsity Matches
The women’s Varsity Match is played at Twickenham in front of an adoring crowd and is fast becoming a prominent fixture on the amateur rugby calendar. The origins of this brilliant match provide a story that will stand the test of time.
The idea of a women’s Varsity Match came from Heather Lawrence of Oxford during the mid-80s. Lawrence was perhaps an unlikely source to initiate the fixture, as by her own admission she “wasn’t particularly sporty” and had in fact joined the karate club when she started at Oxford! It was her viewing of a women’s rugby poster, advertising a trial for a women’s rugby team, that sparked the idea. Following this Lawrence began to learn from the Oxford Old Boys, who had set up a women’s team, and her scouting mission began.
However, her initial idea was never built upon, and it wasn’t until a chance meeting in Cambridge that Lawrence fully got the wheels in motion. Heather joined her boyfriend at the time, who played cricket for Oxford, to an away fixture at Cambridge. In the pub on the eve of the game, there was a discussion ongoing about women’s rugby, when one of the Cambridge cricketers announced that a teammate’s girlfriend also played rugby – Sophia Mirchandani was swiftly invited down to the pub where the two women decided to form teams and create a Varsity Match. The game was scheduled for 10th March 1988 and it’s fair to say that the first iteration of the match was iconic – a crowd of over 200 assembled which Lawrence noted “for a women’s match in the 1980s was amazing”.
Fast forward 30 odd years and the women’s Varsity Match is now played at the home of rugby, Twickenham, a move which makes Lawrence feel incredibly “proud” of all the “girls and every woman that played rugby at Oxford (and Cambridge) … allowing it to grow into what it has become”.
Tickets to witness the next chapter of history in the Varsity Matches’ are on sale now! Don’t miss out on the chance to see the birth of the matches latest legend.