On a day of sensational rugby world cup upsets it seemed only the Oxford blues could follow script as they stormed to a comfortable 34-0 win over Trinity College Dublin.
Earlier in the week Trinity had secured an excellent 16 point victory over varsity rivals Cambridge, running in 5 tries in the process. Thus this fixture provided Oxford a golden opportunity to gauge ability and perhaps gain a psychological advantage over the light blues. Oxford certainly seemed aware of this prospect as a very physical blues side strode out onto the Iffley pitch with real purpose. Trinity, the middlemen in this sizing up of varsity sides, also appeared determined and some explosive hits in the opening moments dispelled any illusions that this was a gentle pre-season run around.
At these early stages in the season Oxford are seeking out several different combinations and seven changes were made to the starting line-up that faced Kanto Gakuin of Japan. Strong running back Euan Sadden moved into outside centre from the wing and, most notably, Joe Roff returned to the side not at last year’s position of centre, but at fly-half.
Although just an experiment to test the cover for regular fly-half Craig McMahon, Roff appeared as comfortable at fly half as he did on the wing for Australia. Floating out some delightful miss passes and linking up well with centre Sadden, Roff may have made McMahon sit a little uneasy on the bench.
Roff wasn’t the only playmaker however, with strings being pulled from all corners of the midfield. Inside centre Tom Gregory slotted in well at first receiver when Roff was tied up and scrum half Toby Henry took responsibility for the play on several occasions. It was his incisive snipe down the blindside that freed up winger Chris Haw to stroll over for the first score on 8 mins.
Oxford continued to press for the remainder of the half. The physical dominance of the blues pack securing the vast majority of possession and probing kicks from Roff and Henry keeping Trinity pegged back. Despite the quick recycling of ball and some strong breaks from Sadden, Oxford failed to add to their lead before half time. Trinity had to consider themselves lucky to go in only one score behind having only sustained one real period of pressure in the opposition half, the attacks thwarted by some excellent drift defence.
At this stage the flood gates were creaking and soon after the restart they burst open in spectacular fashion. Flanker Peter Wright snapped up some loose ball at the breakdown and charged his way to the line, only to be caught metres short. The support from hooker Dan Rosen was exemplary and after a bruising hand off he crashed over for the second score.
A petty sin binning for Oxford number 8 Tony Jackson did not ease the pressure on Trinity and some quick ball spun wide by the Oxford backs allowed full back Tim Catling to waltz in for the third try.
Trinity tried their best to find a way back into the match with captain Joe Burns injecting some much needed urgency from scrum half. They found their way into the Oxford twenty-two and had replacement Luke Mantel held a certain try scoring pass, the game’s closing stages may have been very different. As it was, the physical prowess and perhaps superior fitness of the Oxford side began to tell as Trinity appeared to become more and more deflated as the half wore on.
On his return from the sin bin, Tony Jackson rumbled over for two scores and Tim Catling also got a second as the misery was piled on Trinity.
Steve Hill, Oxford’s Director of rugby, was understandably delighted with the performance, but played down any comparisons with the Cambridge scoreline. “The dominance of the forwards was very pleasing and we showed great patience in wearing down the opposition.
“Cambridge were fielding a weakened side and we mustn’t get carried away with this result.”
For an experimental side the result was fantastic, if a little unexpected, and the conclusions drawn will be positive. At this early stage there’s no doubting which is the happier of the two varsity camps.