On a cold, bleak Sunday afternoon, the Rugby Blues played the Russian national team. In some ways, it was a slightly implausible game. A group of students who are squeezing rugby in between studies took on a hardened group of professionals and came perilously close to victory. It was a performance of such heroism and tenacity that even stoic coach James Wade looked pleased, or at least slightly less grumpy, with the team’s magnificent efforts.As the Russians ran out, your humble author, who plays 2nds at the rugby club and so knows the lads well, was more than a little concerned.
Their two props had more meat on their thighs than a well-stocked butcher and the number 8’s biceps were the size of a normal man’s torso. Their faces seemed to indicate that breaking one another’s noses formed a core part of the Russian training program.Early on, these fears appeared justified. A try to the Russians in the first five minutes indicated that the Blues might be in for a long afternoon. However, some astute kicking from fly-half Charlie Marr gave the Blues good field position and put the Russians under considerable pressure.
Marr, alas, was unable to convert some tricky penalties over the first 30 minutes.But the best was yet to come. A delightful back-line move, designed by backs coach and former Blue James Gaunt, opened the Russians up. Cass Braham-Law sliced through the line before passing to fresher winger Henry Lamont. Lamont, who boasts a sublime left-foot step, literally turned the Russian full-back inside-out before diving over.The Blues entered half-time 12-10 down and there was a palpable sense of optimism.
Unfortunately, the Russians scored a couple of quick tries after the break through their monstrous forward pack and surged to 29 points. The Blues scored another exceptional try through full-back Jonathan Hudson to make the final score 29-15.The Blues had worked the ball back-and-forth across the pitch and again opened the Russians up out wide. Gav Turner, Braham-Law and Lamont were heavily involved.New hooker Nick Gardiner, whose ball-running and improbably large backside have proved a boon for the club, won Man of the Match. Not to undermine his courageous efforts, but it was a little like picking the most valiant of the 300 at Thermopylae.
Captain John Carter was magnificent and put in some thunderous hits on the Russian forwards. In terms of sheer physicality, Captain Carter, a former professional at Sale, was one of the few Blues players who could match their Russian counterparts for size. Prop Bob Baker, who played at Wasps last year, was another who continually drove the Russians back over the gain line. Second-rower Will Rowlands, unlucky to miss last year’s Varsity, was similarly immense.
In the backs, Braham-Law was superb in attack and defence, as was Hee Won-Cho on the wing.Alas, there were a few low moments for OURFC over the weekend: scrum-half Sam Egerton’s blue head-band to keep his increasingly awful pony-tail in check; team manager Tim Stevens mangling various Russian names as they scored; and the Greyhounds (2nd XV) getting pummelled 83-14 by a very good Welsh team.All in all though, a triumphant a weekend for the Blues and one that bodes well for the Varsity game on the 6th December at Twickenham.