Rugby League snatch defeat from the jaws of victory

A chilly afternoon at the University Parks proved frustrating for Oxford as the Blues, having led for a great deal of the match, let things slip in the last ten minutes to leave the University of Wales Institute, Cardiff (UWIC) victorious 18-26.

Oxford had the upper hand throughout the first half against the fancied opposition, shivering off at the break 14-10 up. Looking threatening with possession, they posed danger for UWIC in a way the Welshmen seemed unable to match during their own spells in possession.

Two tries from stand-out wing Chuky Okpalugo, one a length-of-the-pitch kick return after a stunning catch, plus another from Phil Beak in the right-hand corner, could have been joined by a score from skipper Ben Calverley had he not been judged to be held up. This decision was met with derision by a lively crowd. Speaking of whom: most sportsmen are said to be only too happy to have a bit of skirt on hand to watch them play, but when the skirt in question (plaid, in what can only be assumed to be some oblique homage to Burns Night) is being worn by a strapping man with hairy legs, one wonders whether this was a welcome distraction.

It wasn’t just on the scorecard that the Blues impressed. Calverley made up for his personal disappointment with some wonderful distribution, and in general Oxford ran with purpose, vigour and brute force in the contact area. Ed Dick and Fred Garrett in particular impressed with some well-chosen lines of running.

While UWIC, clad in an off-white strip that laid assault to the eyes, managed a try at the end of the half against the run of play, the Blues went into half-time the more content team. The fillip the late score gave the men in white was to prove key however, giving them a foothold in a game that might otherwise have fast got away from them.

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From the off the second half was a far sloppier affair than the first, with several handling errors from both sides. This was especially evident in the first five minutes of the half, as an Oxford knock-on led to a UWIC set stymied by a fumble and drop. In addition, the pitch, which had started off in a pretty bad state, had only deteriorated further so that footing was now an issue too, with Okpalugo stumbling in the churned-up mud on more than one occasion.

The visitors looked to have the wind behind them this half and play was end-to-end, with what looked to be a Blues try ruled out due to a double-movement immediately followed by a UWIC break to within ten yards of the try-line before Calverley brought his man down. Another mistake in the hands by Oxford was this time punished as UWIC drew level.

Oxford responded brightly though. The recipient of a voluminously looped pass from Calverley followed suit, skipping two men out to find Okpalugo, whose neat step took him to his hat-trick. From there it seemed to be Oxford’s game to close out. Okpalugo scorched across the pitch, seemingly hungry for a fourth try, and even when they got close UWIC conspired to be their own worst enemies, as a three man overlap with the try-line calling out was ruined by a drop.

Perhaps this ignominy was a tipping point for the men from Cardiff, or perhaps it led Oxford to switch off, but in the last six minutes UWIC scored thrice to claim not only a win, but a convincing one. The first try came as a surprise, but after that Oxford heads dropped, tackles were missed, and more scores for the Welshmen seemed to be on the cards. A brace from Jack Kerr sealed it for UWIC, the first a truly audacious chip and chase he finished off with an Ashton-esque swallow dive, the second an equally daring piece of individual skill, leading to roars from the whites and curses from the Blues.

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A slight consolation was that the seconds defeated Exeter 16-10, keeping them in the running in their BUCS league. While Exeter had by far the best of the first half, spending most of it firmly within the Oxford‘s territory, some concerted defence restricted them to a single try.

A refreshed Maroons side began the new half with a flurry of tries from old and new. Blue George Darrah scored first before recent convert from Union Robin Bhaduri added another try, proving his ability to handle the new code. Exeter added another, but this was to be their last, as Oxford were not yet done.

Marauding silver fox Chris Coe went over the line in his first game for the club, and with only minutes left Oxford successfully shut out the southwesterners for the remainder of the game. Afterwards, second row Tom Cole told Cherwell, “The Maroons were able to send Exeter packing to their far flung corner of the country where tales of Oxford brutality will be told for generations.”

Despite the Maroons’ success though, the man in the plaid skirt moped off with a sadness to his face, as this was the day OURLFC let the great white Welsh whale out of their grasp.