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Naval Warfare: A review of Oxford water polo

Tom reports on the Varsity waterpolo.

Oxford B v Cambridge B February 8

The Oxford squad huddle as Hertford spectators converge on the poolside. Cambridge? Absent… but soon the mint shorts emerge. Loss will put Oxford bottom of the league. A win: third. Unsurprisingly, coach Tom deals tactics with his fingers nervously retracted up his sleeves. This Varsity match counts and there is extra attention when fingernails are measured – contact is expected.

20:00. The teams charge on the whistle. Oxford win possession and elicit a save from Alex H, the Cambridge keeper, controlling for 2-and-a-half minutes. That’s until Warren Handley can score from distance for Oxford. 1-0. The poolside tension is broken by grins and cheers. Cambridge surge to draw 1-1 within 20 seconds, and spectators’ faces refocus. Cambridge dribble, pass and press to trouble Oxford’s keeper, Joey Weinbren. Play is close until a penalty lets Will H score for Cambridge with 75 seconds remaining in this quarter. 1-2. Oxford’s tip-off leads to mixed play until Cambridge’s Kai shoots from afar. 1-3, worried faces grow. 45 seconds of purposeful Cantabrigian play break with Oxford’s counter-attack. 2-3. Yet, Oxford overstretch leaving Ryan K unmarked. 2-4. Cambridge’s next two efforts require intervention from the post and then Joey himself, who is applauded. A few tense seconds then half-time.

Oxford have the numbers once Kai is sin-binned and Matt Courtis scores. 3-4. Then Cambridge’s rapid attack lets Henry S-T put one beyond Joey’s reach. 3-5. In retort, Alex W, threads a wondrous ball beyond the Cambridge keeper’s right hand and into the net. 4-5. Clapping erupts. James, Oxford’s wing, makes an ambitious effort and smiles return to the poolside as shouts and whoops reverberate. 5-5.

13 seconds later, a Cambridge penalty is converted, but faces don’t fall this time. 5-6. Play is unremarkable, except a few speculative attempts, until Oxford romp on in the dying seconds. Time intervenes and the score remains 5-6 to the flatlanders.

8 minutes remain in the game and the first two pass with increasingly dangerous attacks from both sides. Decisive play offers Oxford a chance, and the crowd erupts. 6-6. Jakob Timmerman bowls it cleanly into the Cambridge goal and the supporters spring up, cheering. 7-6. Advantage Oxford, in style.

Jakob with a casual lob, places Alex C in prime position. 8-6. The win’s within reach. Kai, cap hanging loose, cannons a shot at the top corner but Joey rises, literally, to the occasion, maintaining Oxford’s lead impressively. A time-out with the shout ‘1,2,3 Cambridge’ has little effect. Joey finds Matt, the furthermost Oxonian, who lifts it over Alex H easily. 9-6. Surely it’s over.

Cambridge stretch Oxford, centre it and score, ending their 6-minute dry spell. 9-7. 162 seconds left, with Oxford dominating 24 before Ben Wharton shoots. 10-7. A clinical Oxford attack scores quickly. 11-7.

Cambridge, snatch a shot, earning nothing, but soon break, probe forward and score. 11-8. With eight seconds remaining, Jakob is in place. The shot is saved and play fizzles out. Final score. 11-8.

Oxford rise to third. Cambridge, fourth. The mint mermen have a long, late, journey home.

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