Monday night saw the return of the most anticipated home fixture of the season, as the upstarts from Headington way congregated on Iffley Road to take on OURFC’s Greyhounds. This meeting had extra spice as it was also the first round of the Oxfordshire Cup, and although Brookes had given up their home fixture to have the match played at the larger Iffley, the huge numbers they had brought with them removed all possible element of home advantage.
Local derbies are always cagey affairs, often punctuated more by mistakes than free-flowing play, and this game was no exception. The Greyhounds were the first side to falter, as a ruck infringement handed Brookes a kickable penalty in the middle of the park. The Brookes 10 had been laughably bad when warming up his place-kicking boot before the match, but he struck this one well enough – just wide. Poor hands in the midfield and a faltering lineout meant the Greyhounds spent most of the next 15 minutes in their own half, allowing Brookes fly-half Rory Davis to put his side on the scoreboard, one penalty kicked and one more missed leaving it 3-0 midway through the first half.
Then came the first moment of quality in the match. A poorly chased box kick gave the Brookes right wing plenty of space to launch a counter attack on the halfway line, and good hands released his left wing counterpart down the touchline, neatly stepping the Greyhounds full back in the corner. Against all the odds, Davis kicked the conversion to give Brookes a 10-0 lead, and when the Greyhounds restart went straight into touch, the situation was beginning to look a little worrying for them.
One of the only real positives for Oxford was their scrum, with the strong front row of Andrew Grounds, Sean Brassill and John Direen really getting on top of their opposite numbers. The only real negative was the consistently dodgy handling in the loose from the Greyhounds who gave them so many opportunities to show their superiority. Indeed, the remainder of the first half was dominated by a rash of knock-ons and breakdown penalties.
Rory Davis’ kicking from hand had been the antithesis of his from the tee, putting the Greyhounds back three under all sorts of pressure, and from a Brookes lineout deep in Oxford territory a delightful grubber through saw three Brookes backs converge on the ball, their number 11 being the first in the queue to touch it down under the posts. 17-0 at half time then, and the Brookes supporters in ecstasy. The person responsible for deciding that Frosty Jack’s was to be the default alcohol on sale was clearly in need of a serious head examination as the sea of pink that was the main stand was getting pretty feisty, the chants more boisterous and the atmosphere as the teams returned to the pitch even more intimidating for a Greyhounds side facing a serious test to get anything from the match.
They appeared to emerge with renewed resolve and a new game plan, keeping it tight among the forwards to try and gain yards and momentum with one particularly effective driving maul drawing the ire of the Brookes fans and yells of support from the few Dark Blue fans who had dared attend. However, the errors were still too prevalent and the first 15 minutes were an arm-wrestle in the centre of the pitch punctuated by flaring tempers. Bullocking prop Andrew Grounds was at the centre of the still-dominant Greyhounds scrum, making their insistence on kicking to touch and allowing the ineffective lineout to lose the ball even more bizarre and infuriating.
However, the Greyhounds keeping the ball tight was causing Brookes to concede a few too many penalties at the ruck, and after a clever kick put them under pressure on their own line their No 8 was guilty once too often, receiving ten minutes in the sin bin for his trouble. The Greyhounds finally took a scrum from the resulting penalty, and Number 8 and captain Dugald MacDonald, who had carried strongly all evening, picked up from the base before releasing scrum half Ruari O’Donovan to barge over in the corner. Fly half Guillaume Bourda, in the middle of a difficult night, missed the conversion, but at least the ‘Hounds now had a toehold in the match.
Unfortunately, for the last ten minutes of what should have been a tense finale, the crowd, by now universally absolutely smashed, took centre stage. It was only a matter of time before the first streaker appeared, and the only surprise when it happened was her gender, one particularly classy Brookes girl deciding to follow the advice of the rabid crowd and ‘get her tits out for the lads’. She was collared by the stewards before making it onto the pitch, but the two guys who swiftly followed her were much more successful, one of them even leaving and then returning five minutes later to take up station at outside centre for Brookes in their back line before being dragged away.
As it was, not much else happened on the pitch up until the final minute, when a Brookes breakaway appeared to lead to a try in the corner. However, I confess to not having had a clue what was going on as at this moment the entire main stand stormed the pitch, forcing the referee to abandon the match. It was a pity for it to end this way, and the half full cans being hurled everywhere were a slightly sour sight (as far as I’m aware, no-one got hit in any serious way) but that is part and parcel of this fixture, and the atmosphere and sheer amount of money Brookes bring in to OURFC mean we can look forward to this fixture again next year, where hopefully the Greyhounds will make a slightly better fist of it.