OURFC succumbed to a 31-24 defeat at the hands of the Russian Federation last Sunday.
With the sun setting over Iffley Road Stadium on a glorious November afternoon, the conditions were perfect – thanks largely to the tireless work of the groundsmen – as Oxford kicked off. And it was the Blues who started the better of the two sides, dominating territory and possession in the opening fifteen minutes. With a clear game plan centred on attacking down the left, Oxford twice came close to opening the scoring – Blues captain John Carter was especially unlucky after being tackled into touch just before the tryline following a strong charge – only for the home side to be thwarted by the stubborn Russian defence.
The deadlock was finally broken on sixteen minutes, however, as yet another Blues attack proved too much for the Russians. Expertly dodging a tackle, no. 8 Gavin Turner managed to outpace the Russian backs down the right wing and score the game’s first try, with flyhalf Jonathan Hudson pinging the egg-shaped ball sweetly between the posts to make it 7-0 to the Blues. Though Oxford increased their lead by a further three points following a superb penalty from 40 metres by centre Matt Janney, Russia soon reminded the hosts that they were no pushovers with a try of their own from second row Andrey Garbuzov, which was duly converted by fly half Yury Kushnarev – his nerve and composure as cool as the Siberian winter of his homeland.
This wake-up call only served to galvanise the Blues, who managed to score two more converted tries before half-time, the first coming from wing Henry Lamont (impressive throughout the game) while second row Will Rowlands touched down for the second. As the referee’s whistle tooted with a piercing shrill that cut through the increasingly chilly November air, the Blues trudged back into the changing room with a 24-7 lead, much to the delight of crowd of students, families and rugby enthusiasts populating the cobwebbed stands of Iffley Road Stadium.
The second half of the match was an differentstory, however. Clearly chastened by their first half ordeal, the Russians began in scintillating fashion, with Denis Simplikevich scoring a try within two minutes of the restart – it was no simple manoeuvre, that’s for sure. Though the conversion failed to clear the posts, Russia continued to dominate relentlessly, much to the despair of the hosts. After a period of sustained pressure by the Russians, they once again managed to breach the Blues defence and then successfully added the extras. Try number three came shortly afterwards as the ruthless Russians capitalised on an Oxford sin-bin by putting immense pressure on the Blues scrum, giving the referee no option but to award a penalty try, which was once again converted. With the game drawing to a close, this gave Russia a slender 2 point lead, and although Oxford once again had a chance to reclaim the lead in the final minutes with a Janney penalty, his kick failed to sail over the horizontal bars The cold-hearted Russians then decided to punish the Blues even further with another try which came in the final phase of play, and so as the referee blew for the final whistle, the scoreboard read Oxford 24-31 Russia.
All in all, it was superb second-half fightback from the Russians then, and though they will be disappointed, the Blues will look to pick themselves up, starting with a match against Major Stanley’s XV on Wednesday. The Russians, meanwhile, face Japan in Wales this weekend.