Oxford took to the pitch on Monday 21st September to face the University of British Columbia in the 3rd place play off in the inaugural World University Rugby Cup. Eight university teams, representing eight different countries, travelled from across the world to face each other in the first tournament of its kind.
The previous weeks play had now bought together the two teams in front of a large crowd at Iffley Road. University of British Columbia, nicknamed the Thunderbirds had previously beaten the New Zealand Universities team and would come into their final game looking to make one last statement against the dark Blues.
The game started tentatively, as the rain fell heavily on Iffley Road. The Thunderbirds came out firing and put the blues on the back foot in the first five minutes. After absorbing large amounts of pressure and consistent phase play from the UBC forwards, the dark Blues defense gave in. A well-worked lineout on the 22 allowed the Thunderbirds a strong base to launch an attack out wide. Fullback Coe provided a nice draw and pass to put number 11, Leitner, over in the corner. The kick fell short of the posts putting the score at 5-0.
Despite a few good attacks from Oxford, including a nice break from Matt Geiger, which ended with Ed David being bundled into touch, the game remained at 5-0. The wet weather forced the game into a physical and upfront forward battle, to which UBC appeared to be wining. Sustained pressure and some ill discipline finally led to a penalty conversion by Thunderbird’s Brock Stoller to put the scores at 8-0. As halftime approached, a further 3 points put the Thunderbirds at 11-0.
As the whistle blew for the second half, it was clear that the dark Blues needed to give something more. The second half began much the same as the first, with strong defense in the middle of the park causing a stalemate. Any half chances were stifled by strong defense and turnover ball. Oxford’s chance came at 43 minutes as impressive quick hands in wet weather allowed Cullen to put through Lamont, who hit a hard line that cut open the Thunderbird defense through the middle. Cullen converted the try to make it 7-11 and suddenly the blues looked as if they had momentum.
The second breakthrough came with 10 minutes to go as Oxford consistent pressure led to a quick tap and go. The Blues 9 took it well and offloaded to no. 20 who was tackled over the line by a scrambling UBC defense. What initially looked like a try soon turned into a five-meter scrum to the blues, as the referee ruled it held-up. The Thunderbirds relief was short-lived however as great scrummaging from the Oxford props forced the scrum to go down, leading to a penalty-try. Cullen sent the ball through the posts allowing Oxford to take the lead for the first time in the game.
With just under 10 minutes to go it was clear that UBC, a team who came back from a 10-point deficit against New Zealand to win, would not roll over. Their answer to Oxford’s lead came almost instantaneously after pressure from UBC defense lead to a penalty five meters out. The penalty was again taken quickly and the Thunderbirds crash over. Amidst the confusion and a bewildered-looking Oxford team a yellow card was drawn, sending Lamont to the bin. The conversion was calmly sent through the upright by Staller, bringing UBC to an 18-14 lead over OURFC.
Oxford, in one last ditch attempt, sent the kick off long and bouncing into touch 10 yards from the UBC line. The tension was palpable amongst both sets of supporters, but despite the pressure UBC took the lineout well and cleared their lines. Despite Oxford’s best efforts in the last 5 minutes, the Thunderbirds defense held out.
The game, which ended 18-14 was a well fought, physical and sometimes scrappy game. UBC came to the tournament relative underdogs but would leave in 3rd place, an accolade that they should be proud of, having beaten New Zealand Universities and Oxford in a great cup run.
Full Time: University of British Columbia 18-14 Oxford University RFC