A dominant second half performance ensured that Oxford retained their Varsity Rugby Crown for the first time in more than a decade. Tries from Will Kane, Tom Mitchell and man-of-the-match Karl Outen secured a 28-10 victory – the Dark Blues’ largest since 1988.
With the stadium filling up – a remarkable crowd of 27,255 packed into the lower tier of Twickenham – and the national anthem ringing out the two teams arrived on field. Going into the game as favourites placed the pressure on Oxford, and an early penalty from Cambridge fly-half Steve Townend increased demands even further. But four Minutes later John Carter’s men were ahead; Kane crossed the line following a brilliant steal at the line-out from the talismanic captain himself. A conversion from Cassian Braham Law gave Oxford an early four point advantage.
The following quarter of an hour was scrappy at best with neither side offering much by way of penetration save for a Brahman-Law penalty for offside which extended Oxford’s lead to 7 points.
It was on twenty-two minutes that the games’ major talking points occurred. Tom O’Toole’s kick baffled the Oxford defence and sailed towards the line. A manic chase-down ensued, with Oxford full-back Jon Hudson narrowly beating two attackers to touch down for a five metre scrum. Meanwhile captain Carter lay on the floor awaiting treatment following a punch from the opposite number eight, Dave Allen. The incident eluded referee Dave Pearson who left Oxford fans indignant when he awarded Cambridge a penalty try soon afterwards.
With scores again level the Dark Blues launched persistent attacking was rewarded with a penalty on twenty nine minutes. Again Brahman-Law was on target to give Oxford a three point lead. Carter’s return rallied his side and he was straight in amongst the action, preventing the Light Blues from breaking with a high tackle which led to more fisticuffs between the two teams.
Cambridge squandered two glorious chances to get back into the match but Oxford held took lead into the half-time interval after Townend blazed a penalty wide.
The second half was a different game. A 43rd minute run from Oxford winger Sean Morris, one of the stand-out performers, took the ball into the Cambridge half, where it was to remain for the majority of the half. A line-out in the Cambridge twenty-two sparked a drive to the line, leading to a try for man of the match Karl Outen. Although Bramham-Law could have kicked his side further ahead, chances were coming thick and fast for Oxford. Just two minutes after a missed penalty the number eleven slotted home again to but put the game beyond doubt.
The Dark Blues continued to threaten, skewing wide an attempted drop kick. Again a disheartened Cambridge struggled to clear their lines as Greg Cushing’s clearance was run down by Derek Asbun. Carter chose to scrum-down for the subsequent penalty. Oxford’s pack won through and fly-half Mitchell took the ball across the line. Replacement Matt Janney converted to make the scores 28-10.
With ten minutes remaining the game petered out into a string of substitutions. A brief foray into the Oxford twenty-two provided Cambridge with no consolation and by the final whistle the crowd was already shuffling to the exits. A one-sided match left the Dark Blues celebrating their second consecutive Varsity triumph.
It was also Oxford’s second victory on the day as the under 21s ran out 19-11 winners. Tries from Dan Levene, Ben Girling and John Harkness indicated that the Dark Blues have a bright future.