Oxford were beaten in the 31st Women’s Varsity Match at Twickenham, as a hungry Cambridge side overcame some tough conditions to win 24-0.
It was a game dominated by Cambridge’s forwards, who were exceptional in the scrum and at the breakdown, and Oxford were made to pay for their profligacy in possession.
After a slow first half hour, punctuated by nervous mistakes and handling errors, Cambridge struck twice through Jess Gurney and Lara Gibson to go into the interval 14 points to the good.
And despite Johanna Dombrowski’s best efforts, Oxford never really settled in the second half: Cambridge were much the better side, and tries from Bluebell Nicholls and Cherwell’s player of the match Kate Marks sealed the win.
The first ten minutes of the game were dominated by Oxford, who looked full of confidence after wins in their final two fixtures before the clash. They had most of the early territory, and won a series of scrums following several Cambridge knock-ons.
Violet Smart looked very dangerous for the Dark Blues, making a couple of darting runs down the right, but it was a stop-start game dictated by the heavy rain: both sides understandably found it difficult to string passes together.
Kate Collis impressed at the breakdown for Oxford, but Marks was already stamping her authority on the game, looking to take penalties quickly and dominate proceedings.
A bursting run by winger Abby d’Cruz was the highlight of the half as Oxford were concerned, but the match was a cagey and tight as last year’s 3-0 win had been.
After half an hour, Cambridge managed to burst through the middle of the Dark Blues’ defence, and won a penalty advantage as they spread the ball towards the right-hand corner of the pitch.
That attack broke down, and the penalty was taken quickly just under the posts: a couple of passes later, and hooker Gurney had opened the scoring.
Oxford looked for an instant response, attacking well down the left, but the Light Blues were resolute, and only minutes after their first, they added a second try.
Alice Middleton found herself in space on the left of her own 22, and drove through Oxford’s defensive line. Her chipped kick then bounced perfectly for captain Lara Gibson, who fended off pressure from Sophie Trott to score right under the posts.
Oxford were shell-shocked. It had looked as though they would go into half-time level, but instead, they faced a fourteen-point deficit.
In truth, they never really recovered from the double blow.
Cambridge were dominant in the second half, and Oxford barely made it into their opponents’ half. Dombrowski did her best to rally the troops, but Cambridge, who have a 100% record in the division below their opponents this season, played with a swagger and confidence that their rugby lived up to.
Fifteen minutes into the half, Oxford struggled to cope with a high ball near their own line, and conceded a scrum after knocking the ball on. And after a strong drive forward, Marks’ textbook scrum-half play saw her cross amid mixed tackles from the Dark Blues’ defence to make it 19-0.
The Light Blues continued to dominate as the game entered its final stages, and Bluebell Nicholls’ try in the far corner made sure of the victory.