There was to be no fairytale return to Twickenham for Toby Flood as his Cambridge side lost out to Oxford in 150th anniversary Varsity Match, despite a remarkable 17-point revival in the second half.
First-half dominance from an Oxford pack containing four internationals meant that Cambridge’s three tries in the final 10 minutes were still not enough to give the 36-year-old Flood that winning feeling again at a ground on which he played 32 times for England.
The Dark Blues dominated the first half and the Cambridge cause was delivered a triple-whammy when skipper Stephen Leonard tore his calf, Luke Wyllie crossed at the posts for the first Oxford try and lock Charlie Friend was issued a red card all in the space of a few minutes
Friend was adjudged to have caught Nick Civetta in the head with his boot, thus becoming the first Cambridge player to receive his marching orders in the fixture, and the third overall.
Oxford were back on the scoreboard in the 20th minute when Civetta was able to profit from a rolling Dark Blue maul after a lineout. Another successful Wilkinson conversion put Oxford 14 points ahead and Cambridge desperately needed to find some inspiration from somewhere.
However, Oxford built up more pressure yet and got themselves a third scoring opportunity of the afternoon with a scrum close to the Cambridge try line. From the put in, the dominant Oxford pack pushed them closer to the opposition try line and after a ruck on the line, Andrew Durutalo picked up and dived over the line.
Wilkinson’s third conversion of the afternoon meant the half time score was 21-0 to the boys in Dark Blue.
Oxford started the second half as strongly as they had finished the first with early attacking play putting more pressure on the Light Blues. But this time Cambridge fought back and Dougal Russell looked to take advantage of the bouncing ball and get the try out of the blue.
The TMO took a long, hard look, but didn’t get the nod. Nor did he with a second chance 10 minutes later when he raced onto a pin-point Flood kick ahead.
Cambridge managed to find the try line properly with 10 minutes to go when a rolling maul from a lineout allowed Luke Parry to cross the line. Jamie Benson’s conversion hit the post, as did his second shot moments later when Demi Obembe scored one of the greatest of all Varsity Match tries from 70 metres out from the re-start
In the last play of the game, Cambridge capitalized on their sustained pressure and from a ruck on the right, the ball was played out wide to the left and found Alex King who crossed the line.
A successful conversion from Benson was the last act of a classic game of two halves.
Scorers: Oxford: Tries: L Wylie, N Civetta, A Durutalo; Cons: D Wilkinson 3. Cambridge: Tries: L Parry, D Obembe, A King; Con: J Benson