Oxford rides into the sunset

The Oxford University Polo Club triumphed in its 117th annual var­sity contest on Sunday, crushing their Cambridge counterparts 14-2. It was Ox­ford’s 60th win in the fixture and the widest margin in Oxford’s favour since 1914, cementing Dark Blue dominance in what is one of the set-piece matches in the polo calendar. Played out at Guards following the Old Etonian vs Old Harrovian warm-up game, it was Oxford’s tenth varsity win in 15 years.

Oxford dominated from the first chukka in the blistering Berkshire sun, with George Pearson putting Ox­ford ahead almost straight away with a quick neck shot goal. The Christ Church fresher soon doubled his tally, moving Oxford up to a smart 2-0 lead by the end of the first chukka. Pearson’s hot form persisted into the second chukka, with a narrow miss right at the start. Cambridge then made a move, regain­ing position, but was ridden off by the Dark Blues’ star player Lawrence Wang. With a handicap of -2 and six years of polo playing behind him, Wang’s vast experience was evi­dent in the second chukka as the Tabs strug­gled to get a foothold in the match.

With Cambridge ailing, Oxford hit cruise control, building up a 6-0 lead by the end of the second chukka with two more goals from Pearson. A formidable part­nership between Vere Harmsworth, an­other fresher, and Pearson in the centre of the pitch effectively denied Cambridge possession, propelling the ball time and again towards the Tab goalmouth. A quick change of mounts for the third chukka ensured Oxford’s momentum continued unabated, their vigorous style of play overawing the Light Blues. An audacious nearside shot from Harmsworth, followed by another punchy volley from Pearson put Oxford 8-0 up. With the match turning into a Dark Blue whitewash, Cambridge support­ers were seen retreating into the pavilion and even the commentator suggested this was a painfully unequal encounter.

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Oxford did not let matters lie there, how­ever, reaching double figures by the end of the third chukka at 10-0. Acrimony broke out as Cambridge frustrations flared, a number of fouls breaking up play across the pitch. At this stage, Oxford supporters were seen hast­ily Googling the fixture’s history, wondering if we were on for an all-time record Dark Blue win. Cambridge’s inability to get anywhere near Oxford’s ‘D ring’ ensured victory was all but in the bag.

The fourth and final chukka saw another change of ponies from Oxford quickly bear fruition. Pearson rammed home another goal and Harmsworth fol­lowed this up with a ‘mil­lionaire’s shot’, taking the score to a cool 12-0. Some impres­sive techni­cal play from Louis Maddi­son, Oxford’s number three player with a hand­icap of 0, denied Cam­bridge posses­sion. Maddison ‘hooked’ the ball, using his stick to prevent the Tabs from striking the ball by blocking their stick during the swing, seiz­ing possession and perform­ing an ambitious dash for the Tab ‘D ring.’

The whitewash was sadly be­smirched by a penalty awarded to the Tabs midway through the fourth chukka. As the commentator asked, “Is there a chance for them?” Cambridge managed to chalk up something on the score board. Another pen­alty for the Tabs followed a few moments later and suddenly the Light Blues seemed on the verge of a fourth quarter comeback with the score at 12-2. With a minute to go, though, Oxford crushed such aspirations, a neat backhand from Wang and then another goal leaving the final score at 14-2.

The victory took Oxford three ahead of Cambridge in total wins at Varsity level. The contest has been played almost continu­ously since 1878 and has a good claim to be the single longest running polo match. Past OUPC coaches include Winston Churchill, who used to ride down from Blenheim Palace to test out his charges on Port Meadow. Ox­ford polo perhaps suffers from a reputation as excessively well-to-do, but with over 100 active members of all standards, it ranks as one of the university’s fastest growing sports clubs. The polo varsity has also led the way in gender equality at Blues level, with women (Jacqui Broughton, Oxford and Emma Tom­linson, Cambridge) captaining both Light and Dark Blue teams in 1994 for the first time in the history of any mixed university sport. Recent years have seen the standard of the contest soar; the 2013 match in particular is noted as perhaps the most impressive post-war performance with the addition of Lanto Sheridan to the Dark Blue side.

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And with another varsity win under its belt, OUPC seems to be going from strength to strength. 101 years on from 1914, when Ox­ford triumphed 19-1, Oxford seem to be re­prising their dominance in this staple of the British sporting summer calendar.