Oxford managed to hold their nerve in a bruising Tuesday night encounter down the Iffley Road, edging Trinity College Dublin 21-17.
After last week’s victory over BUCS Super Rugby champions Hartpury College, an expectant crowd hoped that the Blues could make things easier for themselves against the travelling Irish side.
Trinity were the better of the two sides from the kick-off, converting early pressure at the scrum into the first try of the game. Blindside flanker Dave St Leger bundled the ball over the line by the fringes of the ruck, before fly-half Tommy Whittle slotted the conversion with ease to put the men in white seven points ahead within the first five minutes. Oxford, however, were quick to respond, winning a penalty on the Trinity 22-metre line which was quickly taken, allowing winger Ed David to score in the corner a few phases later following some direct running from full-back Sam Edgerley.
Both teams settled into the game, tightening their defences as the increasingly heavily drizzle prevented an exhibition in fluid, running rugby. Trinity looked to move the ball quickly, but were thwarted by either the expectant Blues defence or their own handling ability. Despite this, Oxford were never really able to get on top, let down by their line-outs and just about kept in the battle for the scrum by the repeated infringements of the powerful Trinity pack. Blues skipper Conor Kearns – playing against his old university – held his nerve towards the conclusion of the first half, making a shot at goal to put Oxford one point clear as both teams went into the shed.
The teams returned, with Trinity once again the first team to respond to the whistle: outside centre Courtney driving over the line from short range after two minutes of near faultless play from the Irishmen. A relatively difficult conversion for the Trinity fly-half wasn’t made, preventing them from immediately building on their 12-8 lead. Oxford were able to regain the lead ten minutes later, sustaining pressure throughout the phases resulting in an unconverted try for winger Tom Stileman to put the Blues one point ahead.
The momentum was now with Oxford, forcing Trinity back into their own half with an excellent return punt from the kick-off, which developed into a penalty from the scrum, causing anger amongst the travelling technical staff and delight for the increasingly vocal Iffley crowd. This momentum helped the powerful Oxford openside flanker Roberto Talotti, who had been excellent throughout in both defence and attack, to dive in at the corner by the pavilion to conclude an equally patient and relentless passage of play for Oxford, extending the lead to six points.
Sensing that there was still no way through the middle for them, the Trinity scrum-half Angus Lloyd looked to put pressure on the Oxford back three with a number of well weighted kicks that had been utilised in the first half with no reward. An excellent chip into the Oxford 22 wasn’t properly dealt with, allowing winger Billy O’Hora to put the men in white back into the game as he touched down with 10 minutes to go. Captain Kearns, however, was able to punish the ill-discipline of the Trinity defensive line, putting three points on the board following a penalty for offside at the breakdown.
This set up an exciting final few minutes of rugby, with the Trinity attack testing the nerve of the Oxford line-up until five minutes past the 80, before a fumble in the midfield dropped gratefully into the hand of substitute Charlie Pozniak who punted the ball away to bring an explosive clash to its conclusion.
The Blues took many positives from this game, exhibiting patience in both defence and attack, soaking up the crashing midfield runs of the Trinity backs and recycling
the ball consistently. Whilst conditions weren’t flattering to the ability of the Trinity players, Oxford should be prepared to face teams who are able to keep hold of the ball for longer, as it was often through unforced errors that the efforts of the Irishmen were thwarted.
Those from The Other Place were comprehensively beaten by Trinity earlier this month,which, with some improvement in Oxford’s set piece and response to the high ball, bodes well in the hunt for glory at Twickenham.