The Varsity Match at Twickenham is always one of the biggest events on the Oxbridge sporting calendar, but this year it will be even more special as the game is dedicated to the fifty five rugby union Blues who died during the First World War. 2014 marks the hundred year anniversary of the war’s outbreak and the Varsity Match’s organisers plan to hold a minute’s silence before kick-off in remembrance of the game’s former players.
Among the fifty five, there were twenty-six internationals, captains of England, Scotland and the British & Irish Lions and some of the greatest players of their era. Indeed, the 1901 and 1902 Cambridge skipper David Bedell-Sivright was inducted into the IRB Hall of Fame in 2013.
Of the players who had played in the final Varsity match before the war in December 1913, all thirty fought for their country whilst nine of the two team’s starting line ups had been killed before the fixture resumed in 1919. Out of the thirty players who played that day, eight won Military Crosses, two were awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross whilst another Blue earned the Air Force Cross. Cambridge ran out 13-3 victors that year and current Oxford captain Jacob Taylor hopes that 101 years on, the score can be reversed in the Dark Blues’ favour.
The former Australian sevens international and Keble student said that “the idea of paying tribute to the Blues who served in WWI at this year’s Varsity Match is a great one. It is difficult to imagine how things were 100 years ago, but it is easy to respect the decision made by so many young men to step forward to serve their country,” Taylor, who is a Rhodes scholar studying Cognitive and Evolutionary Anthropology, will be looking to lead Oxford to their fifth successive victory in the fixture in an attempt to claw back Cambridge’s 61-56 overall advantage.
Taylor goes on to describe how “one of the defining metaphors for the current Oxford University rugby team is to try to replicate the spirit of the Army in all we do. It is more about utilising that spirit and common bond to make the whole team greater than the sum of its parts.
“Even though none of us have any connections to the fifty-five Blues who gave their lives so willingly, we will have something very special in common with them at Twickenham on Varsity Match day. It will be a privilege to pay our respects to them.”
The Varsity Match last year saw Oxford run out 33-15 winners, even after they had been reduced to fourteen men after scrum-half Sam Egerton had been sent-off following an off the ball incident. Tries by Egerton himself, Carter, Lamont and Gardner all helped the Dark Blues to a fairly convincing victory over their rivals with Oxford being seen to be particularly dominant at the scrum. However, even though the Dark Blues have had the better of the most recent Varsity exchanges, Taylor is insistent that the team are still more than motivated to make it five victories on the trot.
He says “going for the record five wins in a row is a big incentive, but that doesn’t really motivate me as much as the task of bringing a new Oxford squad together this season does. I’m really motivated by the players in the squad and the experience of going through a journey together,”
Cambridge skipper Harry Peck, who is following in his father’s footsteps in also captaining the Light Blues, is determined to put the memories of recent Varsity encounters behind him; saying “we cannot carry the baggage of previous defeats. The shared goal of a long awaited victory is something we will use to unify and motivate our players.”
The Varsity Match is being played at 14:30 on 11th December at Twickenham Stadium. Tickets are still available and can be purchased via the Varsity Match 2014’s website.