Any spectators who arrived late to University Parks on a wet and blustery day last week will have been struck by the strange combination of Native American tradition and English public school competitiveness that is English lacrosse. Particularly in this, one of the sport’s most competitive set of fixtures, the annual Varsity matches. That the four matches were to be played consecutively no doubt contributed to the good atmosphere and sizeable crowd, made up of family, friends and curious bystanders.
First underway were the Women’s seconds, known as the Swifts, who having already faced Cambridge twice during the season where they had emerged with a victory each time. Bolstered by a number of players who had represented the Blues throughout the season, they went into a fixture guaranteed to be fiercely competitive quietly confident. Cambridge started the strongest, however, with a quick goal straight from the centre draw, lacrosse’s equivalent of a kick-off, giving them a very fast lead. The early momentum did not, fortunately, remain with Cambridge and Oxford soon equalised with a fiery reply. It proved, however, to be short-lived and Cambridge were able to mount a sustained period of pressure around Oxford’s goal. Despite a determined and resilient defensive performance by midway in the second half the damage had been done and Cambridge had opened up a significant lead. That Oxford again rallied and had a strong period of possession themselves, symbolised the team’s spirit but the game eventually finished 6-4 to Cambridge.
Next on the pitch were the Men’s seconds, who hoped to bring the overall score back level. This was achieved in emphatic style. The Iroquois, as the seconds are known, were not as hindered by the poor conditions as the teams playing later, and a more open match developed. A spectacle of big hits and great goals was enjoyed by the hardy spectators who had braved the early morning conditions.
In what seemed to be a match played between two mismatched sides, Raj Rout’s (Nuffield) fakes left everybody questioning the whereabouts of the ball and with the St. Anne’s duo, Hammett and Songe, dominating the midfield, the rest of the team were able to control every stage of the match. Whilst, out, of the copious number scored, Jon Jones’ (Balliol) low to high shot which rippled into the top left corner that was arguably the goal of the match, it was the Iroquois’ ability in the second half to ‘invert’ their game, essentially meaning the attack and defence could swap at will, that impressed the crowd the most. In the end they ran out very comfortable 22-1 victors, and gave the two Blues teams a much needed lift going into the second half of the day’s matches.
With the weather still very volatile (from fairly bright spring conditions to a hailstorm) the pitches became, increasingly sodden, and it was decided to play the two Blues matches simultaneously rather than consecutively. Having enjoyed a very successful season, including defeating Cambridge twice comfortably in the BUCS league, confidence and expectations for the Oxford men were high. However, an almost identical poor start to the women’s seconds left the men down by a goal almost immediately. This single goal seemed to have the double effect of giving Cambridge the belief that they could achieve an upset and to put Oxford psychologically on the back-foot for the remainder of the match.
Whilst the score remained close throughout, Oxford only led once during the whole match and never seemed able to achieve the high performance levels that their season had been characterised by, with a final result of 8-6. Speaking after the match, a clearly upset, Fred Snowball (Hertford), the Men’s Captain, admitted that it was “back to the drawing board for OULC” because there were “no excuses, we just didn’t show up on the day and they did”.
And so, the women’s Blues match became the last game of the day, and to
the clear delight of the extremely focused players the warm up began in another ferocious hailstorm. Fortunately, for players and spectators alike, this subsided into heavy rain, but by the first whistle the players were soaked and increasingly muddy. Cambridge scored two quick goals, leaving Oxford with the even greater challenge of having to fight back in worsening conditions. The rain had turned the pitch into a mud bath, which made changing direction impossible with players ending up face down in the mud. Against the odds though, they did rally and a feed from behind the goal provided Emily Sever (St Anne’s) with a classic quick-stick goal that was simply too much for the Cambridge goalie. Inspired by such skill, Natalie Lister (Pembroke) scored from a penalty minutes later, bringing the game back even, at 2-2, at half time. The second half was ferocious, with a wild crowd cheering Oxford. It remained level for nearly fifteen minutes, with numerous attempts to score by both teams, including three hits of the posts by Alex Walvis (Christchurch). Unfortunately, the game slipped from the grasp of the Oxford team, as, led by the “notorious bad-boy” – as she was later described – Georgie Hurt, Cambridge scored three goals far too easily to put the result beyond doubt. The final score, 5-2, certainly flattered Cambridge , but there was no doubt that they deserved their victory in what had been a very close and exciting match. Raj Rout, Women’s coach noted that ‘we were underdogs and fought in terrible conditions.’
Whilst on the day Cambridge sadly ran out emphatic winners overall; it was clear to all who attended that Oxford University Lacrosse Club is in a very healthy condition, and that on another day the result could have easily been reversed.