A fantastic performance from Keble saw them notch up their third Cuppers victory in five years, defeating a brave Brasenose side 40-3.
The first half was played at a relentless pace which produced far more thrills than spills on a golden March evening. Right from the start, Brasenose showed their attacking intent by keeping the ball in hand, with fly half Charlie Marr fizzing passes wide. However, Keble were dominant in the early exchanges, but couldn’t put any points on the board. Captain Charlie King crashed one penalty attempt off the post, and missed another, before rangy winger John Harkness, arguably the deadliest finisher in college rugby, knocked on with the line at his mercy after a beautifully executed backs move. Crucially though, Keble’s forwards took an iron grip on the game, mauling Brasenose thirty metres on one occasion.
Eventually, the pressure told. Keble fly-half Lewis Roberts opened his sizeable bag of tricks and pulled out a feint, dummy, sidestep, and power-fend to go in from 20 metres out. The pack then ramped up the pressure further with two catch and drive tries, both scored by second row Duncan Bucknell. It was a muscular display from the Keble eight which belied their small stature. However, Brasenose continued to compete manfully, with full-back Ben Calverley prominent. It was unfortunate that their captain and best player during the opening period, the talismanic Tricky Wilson, was forced to leave the field with a serious head injury mid-way through the half. A worthy replacement was on hand, though, and Blues full-back James Crozier came on at outside centre.
Indeed, if Keble’s pack was providing the platform, it was the midfield which was at the heart of all their best play. The trio of Roberts, Sam Ader, and Evans had been invincible throughout Hilary, and it was they who combined quite remarkably to produce a try which will live long in the memory. Starting on half-way, Roberts worked the ball left to Ader in space, who gave a delightful reverse-flick switch to Evans. From there the outside centre- displaying divinely soft hands- worked the ball back inside. Some delicate interlinking and instinctive offloading between forwards and backs moved the ball downfield before flying winger David Edgeley screamed past the cover defence to score. 22-0 to Keble at half-time.
But the game was far from done and dusted. Brasenose emerged reinvigorated; Keble lost focus. Marr’s towering restart disappeared in the floodlights, and all of a sudden Brasenose had possession in the Keble 22. Keble infringed under pressure, Brasenose opted for a shot at goal, and the 3 points were duly taken by Marr.
The fatigue of playing on the expanses of Iffley Road, and the introduction of substitutes, began to affect the quality of the match, and Keble struggled to turned pressure into points. Midway through however, Lewis Roberts created a gaping hole for prop Tom Ouldridge, who showed surprising pace to burst through the gap, and give the scoring pass to Bucknell, the gnarly second-rower registering an unexpected hat-trick. Soon after, full-back Alex Rippingale jinked past some defenders to score in the corner, before Ader touched down under the posts with the last play of the match.
In the end, then, it was a comprehensive victory for the League champions, who secured the double with a team featuring only one Blue. That there were only three Blues on the pitch speaks volumes about the quality of both sides’ college players. Indeed, Keble had seen off a Univ side with upwards of five Blues in their semi-final. Is there an explanation for Keble’s success this year? “We have a lot of skilful and creative players who read the game superbly, even if they haven’t had the benefits of university strength and conditioning programmes,” Keble captain Charlie King said, “on top of that, our commitment and organization in defence this term was outstanding.” So, while college rugby may have had its problems this season, it certainly produced an entertaining final and worthy winners.