Australian rules football (AFL for the uninitiated) is a game adored in small pockets of Australia but which, alas, has never really taken off anywhere else in the world (largely because all other males are insufficiently masculine to attempt to play it).
The spectators who watched the brilliant display by Oxford in the 92nd AFL Varsity match on Saturday will no doubt rectify the hitherto undeservedly low appreciation of this sport. Even now, tales are flying around campus regarding the athleticism, skill and courage of the antipodean participants, as well as the sheer range and volume of profanity directed at the Tabs by Oxford’s magnificent, indefatigable captain, Nikolas Kirby.
Ultimately Oxford triumphed convincingly, with the final score being 65-36, even though they lost their best player prior to kick-off, Sam Stranks, .
The team had trained long and hard throughout the winter despite the protestations of the University Parks groundsmen, who resented 30 vaguely overweight Australians ruining their pitches without a hint of a booking. In the lead up to the varsity match they had already chalked up impressive wins against Birmingham University and the Reading ‘Roos’.
Thus the scene was set for an epic encounter, with the weather glorious and the pre-match banter of the very highest standard (‘the game starts at the opening whistle, boys… remember which direction we’re supposed to be going… they look pretty overweight…’).
Oxford dominated the opening quarter with backman Hugo Batten (author of this piece) heard to demand sandwiches and a coffee, such was the paucity of action in the defensive half (no such sandwich or coffee was forthcoming – the waterboys were useless). Tim Cole was a veritable possession magnet and the Tabs looked severely outclassed.
Alas, a swing in momentum in the second quarter allowed Cambridge to kick a couple of quick goals in the lead-up to half time. Nevertheless the Oxford dressing room was confident, and Phil Clark, in his 11th AFL varsity game, vociferously articulated a cunning strategy for victory: in essence, it centred on the inescapable insight that if we kicked more goals than they did, we would, in all likelihood, win the match. Steeled by this profundity, Oxford stormed out and commenced the second half with gusto.
Trav McLeod, like a latter-day Achilles, swept all before him in the third quarter and was ably assisted by Grey Johnston and Hugh Wolgamot. The fourth quarter continued in a similar vein with Sebastian Hartford-Davis, Eli Ball, Sam Power and Eugene Duff making telling contributions. Jarrod Voss of Cambridge attempted to staunch the flow, but was powerless before the armada of talent which Oxford unleashed in the latter portion of the match.
Needless to say, after a performance that will be quickly assimilated into the annals of modern sporting legend, the events after the game were a Bacchanalian blur. The most that can be said was that Baby Love bar received a fiscal stimulus from the Australian economy that will no doubt distort the balance of payments between Australia and the UK for many decades to come.