In the end there couldn’t have been a more fitting finish as honours ended even in the 100thanniversary of the first game between the Dark Blues and the Major Stanley’s XV.
Back in 1919, a hat-trick of tries from Oxford old boy Stephen Steyn had guided the invitation team to a 12-8 win at Iffley Road. A century on it was two tries from Gloucester centre Jack Reeves that helped edge the visitors ahead before a driving line-out try at the death from hooker Josh Navarajasegaran the chance to burrow over for a try that enabled Louis Jackson to level the scores with the conversion.
The good Major, or ‘Uncle’ as he was affectionately known, would have loved it . . . as well as the fact that the game he started in 1919 is still going strong. Next stop Twickenham and the ‘Battle of the Blues’ for Ed David and his men.
Former Oxford director of rugby Steve Hill helped to assemble and coach the Stanley’s XV and they were a highly competent and competitive outfit. Coventry outside half Dan Lewis made a series of brilliant breaks and Reeves showed a clean pair of heels to everyone once he was put in space.
Oxford had to live without the ball for most of the opening quarter and quickly found themselves 12 points in arrears. Lock Hugo McPherson rounded off a Lewis break to notch the opening try and then Reeves sped clear for a second that Lewis improved.
There was no panic in the home ranks and a moment of individual brilliance from Tom Stileman got the Dark Blues on the scoreboard after quarter-of-an-hour. The left wing took the ball on the 22, stopped and checked his opposite number, sped away and then kicked a head inch-perfectly before winning the race for the touchdown.
All of a sudden the ball was coming back more frequently on the student’s side and scrum half Jack Dalton was next to score from close range after good approach work by his pack. Tom Humberstone added the extras and the scores were level after 25 minutes.
Those two tries gave Oxford the confidence to press ahead and two more tries came before the break as the back row duo of Sam Ridgeway and Ryan Jones went over. Humberstone converted them both to make it 26-12 at half-time.
Having led by 12 points at one stage, Stanley’s found themselves starting the second half trailing by 14 and in need of a response. They got it immediately as lock Fred Myatt latched onto a chip ahead and scored at the posts.
Lewis converted to cut the gap to seven points, but a second score from Ridgeway, in perfect support of an incredible 30 metre charge from loose had prop Euan Friend, restored the home advantage. Humberstone converted, but Stanley’s simply wouldn’t go away.
Instead of falling apart, they simply got stronger and three tries without reply carried them back into the lead. Joe Gray, Reeves again and finally giant replacement No 8 Finn Creighton all crossed for tries that were all converted by Lewis to give the guest team a 40-33 lead with six minutes left to play.
It was a real test of the resolve of Ed David’s side and they gave it one last shot before finally conjuring up the draw. A great run by Nick Greenhalgh took the Dark Blues deep into the Stanley’s 22 and they won a penalty.
The kick to the corner gave Navarajasegaran the chance to test his throwing skills and he hit his tail gunner at the line-out perfectly. The maul was set-up, the hooker ran into position at the back and was rewarded with the try that allowed Jackson to level matters with the conversion.
Scorers: Oxford: Tries: S Ridgeway 2, W Stileman, J Dalton, R Jones, J Navarajasegaran; Cons: T Humberstone 4, L Jackson. Stanley’s XV: Tries: J Reeves 2, H McPherson, F Myatt, J Gray, F Creighton; Cons: D Lewis 5
Oxford Blues: Ed David * (St Hilda’s, captain); Rob Quinlan (Jesus), Louis Jackson * (Oriel), Nick Greenhalgh (Keble), Tom Stileman * (Christ Church); Tom Humberstone * (Jesus), Jack Dalton (Keble); Euan Friend (University), Josh Navarajasegaran (Merton), Ben Parker * (Brasenose), Calum Haggett (Magdalen), George Warr * (New), Sam Ridgway (St Antony’s), Bertie Watson (St Edmund Hall), Ryan Jones * (St Edmund Hall)
Reps: Barnaby Vaughan (Corpus Christi), Conor Hennessy * (St Catherine’s), Abhijeet Oswal (St Edmund Hall), Piers Von Dadelszen (St Edmund Hall), Tristan Louveaux (Regent’s Park), George Messum * (Kellogg), George Tresidder * (Harris Manchester), David Wilkinson (St Edmund Hall), Seb Haddock (St Edmund Hall), Henry Hackett (Christ Church), Pete Moore (Kellogg)
Major Stanley’s XV: Tim Catling * (Old Whitgiftians); Louis Beer (Coventry), Jack Reeves (Gloucester), Sam Moorby * (RAF), Will Browne * (Richmond); Dan Lewis (Coventry), Dylan Munro (Harlequins); Lewis Anderson * (Littlemore), Ethan Hunt (Gloucester), Ed Prowse (Coventry), Hugo McPherson * (Haywards Heath), Fred Myatt (Oxford Harlequins), Joe Gray (Gloucester), Luke Sherriff * (Harlequins), Chris Davies * (Richmond)
Reps: Kieran Ball * (Chingford), Greg Drew (Rams), Fred Betteridde (Coventry), Harry Jackson (Henley), Finn Creighton (Coventry), Rob Povey (Coventry), Reece Dunn (Gloucester), Conan Osborne (Jamaica 7’s)