It was first blood to Cambridge in the annual ‘Battle of the Blues’ as they kicked-off the Varsity Match Series with a thrilling 29-26 win against Oxford in the Colleges XV fixture at Grange Road.
The home side led 19-5 at the break, increased their lead to 26-5 with a fourth try, but were then forced to hold off a brave fight-back from the Dark Blues as they cut the gap to three points in the end with four tries of their own.
Back row man Will Scrivens and hooker James Chaudhry both scored two tries to launch the Light Blues into what seemed like an impregnable position. Chaudhry profited from two expert driving line-outs, while Scrivens peeled around the back of another line-out for one try and was put in for his second by a wonderful off-load from his stand-out back row colleague, Matt West.
The Colleges fixture began in 1999 and no team had ever won five in a row before. Oxford had completed four in a row between 2007-10 and arrived at Grand Road with victories in the previous four fixtures.
But they simply couldn’t cope with the power and intensity of the home forwards in the first half and left themselves with too much to do in the final quarter. Even so, they had the home supporters baying for the final whistle as they threatened to do the impossible and over-turn what was at one stage a 21 point deficit.
It helped their cause that Cambridge lost prop Tom Ryan to a yellow card in the final 10 minutes with only one score separating the sides, but the visitors’ couldn’t turn their greater numbers into a winning advantage in the face of some heroic Cambridge defence.
The Oxford tries came from Eoin O’Sullivan in the first half and then Oscar Marriot-Clarke, Ruairidh Beer and Russell Reid in their second half-revival. All three tries after the break were converted by Alec Bannister.
Next up in the series is the Men’s 2nd XV Varsity, when the Oxford Greyhounds host the Cambridge LX Club at Iffley Road on Wednesday afternoon. The 138th Men’s varsity Match is at Twickenham on Thursday, 12 December and will be played after the 33rd Women’s Varsity Match at the same venue.
Cambridge Colleges: Tries: Will Scrivens 2, James Choudhrey 2; Cons: Owen Perks 2, Nathan Johns 1; Pen: Nathan Johns
Oxford Colleges: Tries: Eoin O’Sullivan, Oscar Marriot-Clarke, Ruairidh Beer, Russell Reid; Cons: Alec Bannister 3
Cambridge Colleges XV: Tom Milford (Clare); Cavan Farrow (Fitzwilliam), Michael Griffiths (Churchill), Nathan Johns (Homerton), Angus McIntosh (Jesus); Owen Perks (Gonville & Caius), James Lloyd (Queens’); Tom Holland (Jesus), James Chaudhry (Homerton), James O’Sullivan (Gonville & Caius), Charlie Friend (St John’s, captain), Alexander Froud (Magdalene), Will Scrivens (Girton) , Chris North (Emmanuel), Matt West (St John’s)
Reps: James Wright (Jesus), Jeff Gu (Darwin), Charlie Mayall (Jesus), Tom Birdseye (Emmanuel), Hugo Lloyd Williams (St John’s), David Holdroyd (Jesus), Alex King (St Catharine’s), Raife Copp-Barton (Girton)
Oxford Colleges XV: Oscar Marriot-Clarke (Magdalen); Ben Kibblewaite (Christ Church), Josh Abass (St Peter’s), Ben Jackson (Worcester), Russell Reid (Corpus Christi); Alec Bannister (St Catherine’s), Sam Monk (Kellogg); Mike Chamberlain (St Edmund Hall), Jonathan Morley (New, captain), Harry Chapman (Corpus Christi), Sam Carling (Keble), Lewis Sutton (St Edmund Hall), Eoin O’Sullivan (Oriel), Cail Wyn-Evans (Jesus), Eddie Gillow (St Edmund Hall)
Reps: Tom Barnes (New), Isaac Pockney (Hertford), Harry Lyons (Pembroke), Ruairidh Beer (St Edmund Hall), Ed Kilcommons (New), Charlie Hewes (Magdalen), Ed Russell (St John’s), Brian Kwizera (St Peter’s).