The first Varsity Match took place at The Parks, Oxford on 10 February, 1872 – one year after the formation of the RFU and the official banning of hacking and tripping in the game.
Oxford played in their traditional dark blue but Cambridge appeared in pink, switching to their light blue and white stripes four years later. The inaugural fixture – a 20-a-side game –
was won by Oxford by a goal to nil. The teams adopted the 15-a-side format of rugby in 1875.
The Oxford Book of Records on the first Varsity Match
“On Saturday, February 10th, 1872, a match was played between the Rugby football clubs of Oxford and Cambridge. The length of the journey, reading and other causes prevented Cambridge from playing their full strength. For the first quarter of an
hour, however, their great weight forward kept them near the Oxford goal. Oxford also lost the services of Francis after about ten minutes’ play, as he strained his leg and could not go on. The Oxford forwards, however, soon showed their real superiority, and by some excellent play, notably by Isherwood, Cholmondeley and Fletcher, took the ball to their opponents’ goal line and forced them to touch it down. On their dropping it out, it was returned to the 25 yards post, and Isherwood,
getting the ball when thrown out of touch, made a good run in, and turned it into a goal by an excellent kick, for the distance was very long.
“Goals were now changed, as it was just half-time: but Oxford could not succeed in gaining any other positive advantage, though they forced Cambridge to touch it down three times, and would have done so oftener but for the excellent play of
Lambert. Just at the call of time Fletcher kicked the ball over the bar from the ground: but it was alleged it had touched one of the Cambridge men on the way, and no goal was therefore counted. “For Oxford, Deacon and K. R. Fletcher were always useful half-backs: while Pearson (back) by his long drops, and Isherwood, Gardner, Cholmondeley, W. R. Fletcher and
Edgell forward did great service. For Cambridge, Lambert played splendidly, saving Cambridge many times: Luscombe also played well at back; and Collin, Agnew, Back and Baxter showed their ability to play a losing game well forward.”
The two teams would have been pretty familiar with each other! Of the 40 players stepping out onto the pitch, 24 had been educated at Rugby School – 16 for Oxford and eight for
Cambridge. Uniformity is also evident when looking at their future career choices. After graduation, 13 became lawyers, seven were ordained, five took up teaching and four
followed military paths.”