Oxford won the 137th men’s varsity match today 38-16, after a thrilling game saw them surge to a succession of tries in the second half. This is the first varsity victory for the dark blues since 2015, preventing a Cambridge hat-trick, and bringing the varsity total scores to 63 for Cambridge to Oxford’s 60 wins.
In the first quarter of the game at Twickenham Cambridge seemed to dominate, with the score at 6-0 to the light blues after fifteen minutes. Oxford struggled with high balls and were making errors. Oxford also suffered injuries in the early stages with number eight Sven Kerneis being replaced with Ryan Jones due to a blood injury, five minutes into the game. Mike Phillips converted both of Cambridge’s early penalties but by the twenty-minute mark Oxford seemed to come into the game. Fly Half Tom Humberstone cleared a penalty, giving Oxford their first points. This was to be the first of 6 successful kicks for the number 10 who successfully converted all five of the subsequent tries for Oxford. Going into the final ten minutes of the half Oxford appeared to be moving laterally and not managing to push the game forward towards the try line. After a scare of a near-miss Cambridge try and another successful penalty kick from Phillips, Oxford won a lineout at the 37 minute mark. Fantastic and quick partnership work from full back Ben Ransom and winger Dan Barley down the right side of the pitch brought Oxford their first try by the end of the half.
The second half was a different story and a convincing display of Oxford talent led to a flurry of tries which secured the final score. Four minutes in, Charlie Pozniak, the dark blue blind side flanker, scored Oxford’s second try. Scrum half George Tressider had a poor game and Cambridge snuck back some possession but the third Oxford try came at the 60 minute mark. An impressive insertion of pace by Tom Stileman brought Oxford over the try line again in the left corner. After a yellow card for Cambridge kicker Mike Phillips left them a man down, there was a repeat of Oxford’s first half try with Ransom making another crucial pass which allowed for Barley to touch down again. With the score at 29-9 Oxford appeared to have the game but Cambridge captain Koster brought the light blues their first try, increasing their points to 16. In the final moments of the game, after a smooth and powerful final drive from Oxford, another stunning show of flair from consistent kicker Humberstone led to Oxford’s fifth try when he touched down after a series of fast passes crossed the ball across the pitch.
Oxford and Cambridge were on relatively equal standings going into the match, having both won seven of their ten warm up fixtures. Despite Cambridge having ten returning blues to Oxford’s five, the dark blues had the advantage of five players in the team having had experience playing for premiership sides. Captain for Cambridge, Nick Koster, who has played in South Africa and for Bath and Bristol, had a good game but suffered a blood injury in second half and did not manage to inject needed aggression and power into the Cambridge side in the second half. The standout players for Oxford were Waldouck, Humberstone and Barley as well as Ben Ransom who was awarded player of the match. Reflecting on the victory Ransom noted that Oxford had a “tough first 20 minutes” but they managed to “build into the game and score some nice tries in the second half.”
Speaking to Cherwell, Oxford Captain Dom Waldouck said that the most important thing for him was that Oxford managed to weather the pressure early on. Reflecting on how the team dealt with the pressure of Twickenham Waldouck said “the focus on processes and the focus on us helped us deal with the occasion, we had to take the factor of the occasion out and focus on exactly what we were doing.”
When asked about his captaincy, Waldouck told Cherwell: “its been a huge learning curve in understanding and managing people and how to communicate, I’m so proud of what the group has become, how close we are, how much we care about each other and I think we showed that when we came under a lot of pressure today.”
Oxford’s George Robson also commented on the nature of the team, telling Cherwell that he was “so proud, I have friends for the rest of my life now which makes it all the more special. The whole squad came on and everyone did their bit, we had trust in each other and showed resilience.”