A moment of magic from Cambridge’s Scottish centre Coreen Grant made it three in a row for the Light Blues in the women’s Varsity Match at Twickenham.
For the second year in a row Cambridge won 8-5, but until Grant stuck three minutes from time it looked as though Oxford were going to hold on a famous win after prop Jessica Abele, who was in Light Blue in last year’s match, had crossed for a first-half try.
Oxford scrum-half Sile Johnson and lock Katie Collis had produced outstanding individual displays, but it was still not enough for victory as Grant stole it for Cambridge at the death. The Light Blues’ hat-trick at the home of English rugby means they now trail 19-14 in the head-to-head record between the two sides since 1988.
Cambridge’s other points came via a penalty from full back Hannah Vandersluis and their intent to play was clear after a scrappy opening 10 minutes as they looking to spread the ball wide whenever possible.
Oxford responded with a scintillating break from fly-half Pat Metcalfe-Jones, who has previously played hooker in this fixture, while Collis won a key turnover. It laid the platform for a sustained period of Dark Blue pressure. Collis was everywhere as she then produced a vital charge down of Cambridge scrum-half Kate Marks’ attempted clearance.
From the resulting scrum a series of surges close to the Cambridge line ended with tight head Abele going low and on the angle to make the line for the opening score. Keble College centre Abby D’Cruz couldn’t convert.
Cambridge full-back Vandersluis, sporting light blue hair, slotted a simple penalty with her left foot in response and her team’s scrum was dominant. Greasy conditions made handling difficult and there were a series of spilled balls as a result.
Oxford flanker Phoebe Haste was then yellow carded for not rolling away at a ruck, but her team still went to the break 5-3 up. Oxford scrum-half Johnson impressed with her tactical kicking in the first period and she continued from where she left off when the game resumed.
Johnson was outsmarting Marks in that area of the game, but both players impressed on the whole. The latter did give her team momentum with a quick tap from a penalty, but the Light Blues were then penalised for holding on.
Oxford lost captain Hazel Ellender – who had suffered a knee injury in the build-up to the game – to what looked like a shoulder problem and the Dark Blue scrum was still going backwards. Still, it didn’t stop Connie Hurton from racing clear and passing inside to centre Nina Jenkins.
The game was on a knife edge going into the final quarter with Vandersluis leading the Cambridge charge while Oxford kicked too much ball away where Hurton covered impeccably. Cambridge went for broke knowing they had to do something to erase their two-point deficit.
They created an overlap out wide, but Bluebell Nicholls produced a poor kick when the ball had to be kept in hand. Luckily for her there was still enough time for her centre partner Grant to make amends and she did that with a blistering break.
From a scrum in midfield, Grant crashed on to the ball, powered through two midfield tacklers, and went round Hurton and past Zoe Nunn to score near the posts for what was the game’s decisive moment. Vandersluis couldn’t convert, but the damage had already been done.
Scorers: Oxford: Try: Jessica Abele; Cambridge: Try: Coreen Grant; Pen: Hannah Vandersluis
15. Connie Hurton * (Queen Elizabeth GS, Penrith & Pembroke)
14. Clodagh Holmes (Chellaston Academy, Derby & University)
13. Abby D’Cruz * (Como Secondary College, Perth, Western Australia & Keble)
12. Nina Jenkins (Hills Road Sixth Form College & Keble)
11. Helen Potts * (Bolton Girls’ School Division & New)
10. Pat Metcalfe-Jones * (Hockerill College & Christ Church)
9. Sile Johnson (Presentation College, Bandon & St Hugh’s)
1. Hazel Ellender * (King Edward VI GS & St Cross, captain)
2. Anna Bidgood * (Sedbergh School & University)
3. Jessica Abele * (Schickhardt Gymnasium, Germany & Exeter)
4. Katie Collis * (City of London Freemen’s School & Lincoln)
5. Carla Schmidt (Paul-Pfinzing Gymnasium, Germany & Magdalen)
6. Ailsa Clark (Reigate College & Worcester)
7. Phoebe Haste * (Peter Symonds College, Winchester & Trinity)
8. Hannah Cooper * (Bolton School Girls’ Division & Worcester)
16. Ruby James (Altrincham Girl’s GS & Worcester) for Bidgood 76
17. Shekinah Opara * (Wallington County GS & Keble) for Abele 64
18. Esme Haywood (Gresham’s Holt School & Brasenose) for Ellender 53
19. Meryem Arik (Haberdashers’ Aske’s School for Girls & Somerville) for Schmidt 51
20. Emily Cohen (Norton Hill School & Jesus) for Haste 41
21. Zoe Nunn (Rudolf Steiner School, Kings Langley & St Catherine’s) for Holmes 46
22. Megan Carter * (Invicta GS & Lincoln)
23. Maddie Hindson (Monk’s Walk School & Keble)
* DENOTES BLUE
15. Hannah Vandersluis (Yateley School & Peterhouse)
14. Hannah Samuel (Tunbridge Wells Girl’s GS & Girton)
13. Coreen Grant (The Royal High School, Edinburgh & Corpus Christi)
12. Bluebell Nicholls * (Ringmer Community College & King’s)
11. Ella Halcrow (Rugby HS & Murray Edwards)
10. Elisha Clark (South Holderness Technology College & St John’s)
9. Kate Marks * (Exeter School & Newnham)
1. Laura Bleehen (Howell’s School, Llandaff & Girton)
2. Emma Pierce * (Bournmouth School for Girls & St Catharine’s)
3. Laura Nunez-Mulder * (Rydal Penrhos / Holmfirth HS & Emmanuel)
4. Hilde Schneemann (Regional School Community Pantarijn , Netherlands & Darwin)
5. Lauren Gregory (Brighton, Hove & Sussex Sixth Form College & Corpus Christi)
6. Jenni Shuttleworth * (Olchfa CS & Churchill)
7. Fiona Shuttleworth * (Olchfa CS & Pembroke, captain)
8. Rose Scowen (Greenhead College / Bradford GS & Magdelene)
16. Charlotte Manser (Drayton Manor HS & Murray Edwards)
17. Alice Elgar * (South Wiltshire GS & Girton) for Schmidt 41
18. Saffron Hicks (Colchester Royal GS & Selwyn) for Nunez-Mulder 74
19. Marj Heemskerk (The Mountbatten School & Trinity Hall)
20. Cara Prowling (Rodillian Secondary School & St John’s) for Scowen 69
21. Jen Atherton (Blackwell Secondary School & Jesus) for Nicholls 76
22. Emma McLoughlin (Ursuline HS, Wimbledon & St John’s)
23. Lottie Paterson (St Mary’s School, Calne & Corpus Christi)
* Denotes Blue
Referee: Laura Pettingale (RFU)