The Oxford Women’s Rugby Team welcomed Exeter University fully aware that they were in for a challenge. This was always going to be a tough fixture against the team that reached the final of the University Women’s Rugby Cup last year.
It would be interesting to see how this relatively unfamiliar Blues side would fare against the league big boys and for the first twenty five minutes at least, Oxford proved a spirited match for their opponents. The scrum was organised and competitive, and possession fairly equal.
Already though, there were warning signs that the Blues’ carelessness with the ball could prove costly. Handling errors (on both sides, admittedly) meant play was fragmented all too often and Exeter began to show their authority at the line-outs.
A series of borderline decisions from the match referee did little to help either team’s fluidity, and with neither side showing the sort of play needed to lift play above the middle-of-the-park scrap, a spark was needed to get the game going.
Finally, with nearly thirty minutes played, Exeter provided the injection of quality the match needed. Oxford had only themselves to blame for this however. A missed tackle left the home side’s backline mercilessly exposed and Exeter’s lightning number 10 took full advantage, grabbing her first try of the afternoon to break the deadlock. The conversion was missed, but the damage was done, and Oxford never really recovered.
Rather than bring the Blues to life, the five points only seemed to spur on Exeter, who were now well in control of proceedings. A series of injury breaks gave the hosts a chance to regroup, but despite the best efforts of the tacticians on the sidelines, the Exeter girls remained on top, almost cutting open the Oxford backline again on thirty four minutes. A heroic last ditch tackle was all that lay in the way of Exeter extending their lead further.
The green-kitted visitors stayed calm and assured, and minutes later their patience was rewarded with a second try, again scored by their number ten. To make matters worse, the Exeter kicker defied the blustery conditions to notch her first conversion of the meeting. As half-time approached, not even the sight of one of Exeter’s players limping off the pitch could have done much to encourage the Blues, who were now facing a 12-0 deficit.
The second period began in much the same way as the first. Oxford, apparently spurred on by their team talk, began to frustrate their free-flowing opponents – although Exeter’s pace and strength in attack continued to cause trouble. With the clock approaching 60 minutes another hammer blow was layed out by the side in green. The Exeter forwards strolled through the Blues backs after another missed interception, and an inevitable try and conversion followed.
A brief lull in the game’s tempo was then rudely interrupted by another nail in Oxford’s coffin, this time some fine work down the right flank leaving the Blues backline powerless to avoid conceding a further five points. The Exeter fly-half began to find her Jonny Wilkinson touch and it came as no surprise when she buried a fine conversion from a tight angle to send her team twenty six points clear.
Emotions began to rise in the Blues area of the touchline as the team’s hard core contingent of followers began to get agitated. This score line had to be kept respectable but still Exeter probed at the hosts’ defence, although Oxford started to show some resilience of their own.
Finally, with virtually the last action of the match, Oxford huffed and puffed their way to a try, their sheer determination proving too much for the Exeter backs. The welcome five points were met with an expected roar from the crowd.
Despite the convincing victory for Exeter, Blues Coach Al Heath was in good spirits after the match. He reiterated the proven superior quality of Exeter’s team (the ‘second best in the country’) and said he was ‘not displeased’ with the manner of his side’s loss.
‘They showed good endeavour’, he remarked, while citing his side’s own mistakes as being the key cause of their downfall. Still, this was a sobering contest after the 43-10 conquest of Cardiff last week, and there will be plenty for the Oxford girls to think about going into next week’s away tie at Bath. They need to come back from Wednesday’s disappointment in order to rebuild their season.