The tale of the 134th Varsity Match is a simple one, on the surface. Four George Cullen penalties to two Don Stevens efforts gave Oxford a 12-6 win, and a record 6th Varsity win in a row.
Of course though, there was so much more to it than that. This was one of the higher quality matches in those six years, and also one of the most hotly anticipated in recent times.
Why? Because of the presence of one name on the Cambridge teamsheet, the first British and Irish Lion to play in the match since 1983, a certain Jamie Roberts.
Within barley a few minutes of the game he had made his mark, arriving with a bone-crunching carry towards his opposite number, the Oxford captain Henry Lamont, who was immediately forced off with what looked like a concussion. The former Cranleigh School man’s afternoon had barely lasted five minutes.
There was something rather special about the Cranleigh School reference though, for what this game really is, for many, is a truly achievable goal for players at school now. Besides the handful of players at school who go on to a professional career in the game, school 1st XV rugby is often the pinnacle of a young rugby players game. The Varsity match, for those who are not able to go down the professional route, is one of the few games that truly surpasses those school 1st XV days, it is a match full of prestige, played, of course, at the home of rugby.
Just going through the two teams, there were, for example, four former Bedford School pupils, two Sherborne alumni, and two Cranleigh old boys among the 46 players in total.
Despite some of the players being somewhat on the older side for students, Roberts, for example, was born in 1986, it feels somehow just a couple of steps away from the school playing fields.
For one player it really was that, Oxford openside Will Wilson was captaining the Wellington College 1st XV to one of their most successful seasons in their illustrious history last year.
The young all-rounder (he was the back-up kicker should Cullen have had to go off), had a fine game, drawing comparisons with David Pocock at one stage from one seasoned journalist in the press seats.
Wilson is also an example though of the potential for this game to be a springboard to greater things. Despite having played for Wasps U18 and Wasps A, as well as captaining the England 7s side at the Commonwealth Youth Games, he arrived at University uncontracted, unlike last year’s openside Gus Jones, who remained part of the Wasps academy. You sense though that the Varsity match could be a springboard, certainly it will have kept him on the radar. That is the beauty, as well as offering some players an opportunity of a lifetime, for others it can offer an alternative, less trodden, path to higher glories.
For Roberts those higher glories start again next weekend when he lines up for Harlequins for the first time, assuming he overcomes the dead leg that forced him off at half time.
The Varsity Match should thank him though, despite only getting a half from him, his presence raised the profile of this once great match that had felt a little like it was in danger of losing its way in recent years. Having him there raised the anticipation, profile, and even, it seemed, the quality of the game – for that alone, his appearance was a great success, regardless of his side’s defeat.
The BBC also played their part, for games and occasions like this to stay relevant and special, they need to be seen. Having the game back on the BBC helps that enormously.
It is always a special afternoon, but this one felt particularly special. With six wins on the bounce, and now just two shy of equaling the head to head record of in this 134 year old contest, it will feel particularly special for those of a Dark Blue persuasion.
Full Time: Oxford University 12-6 Cambridge University
|134th Varsity Match Teams|
|Matthew Geiger||Manchester Grammar||15||Simon Davies||Latymer Upper|
|Henry Hughes||Peter Symonds’ College||14||Ilia Cherezov||Bedford|
|Matthew Janney||King’s College Wimbledon||13||Oliver Clough||Bedford|
|Henry Lamont (c)||Cranleigh||12||Jamie Roberts||Ysgol Gyfun Gymraeg Glantaf|
|Thomas Stileman||Cranleigh||11||Andy Rees||St Paul’s|
|George Cullen||Bishop Stortford College||10||Fraser Gillies||Edinburgh Academy|
|Henry De Berker||Cotham Comprehensive||9||Don Stevens (c)||Grey College, Bloemfontein|
|Lewis Anderson||Bexley Grammar School||1||Will Briggs||Bedford|
|Richard Halpin||Blackrock College||2||Max Montgomery||Bangor Grammar|
|Ian Williams||Sherborne||3||Dave Spelman||Tonbridge School|
|Fergus Taylor||Sherborne||4||Rob Hall||Ermysted’s Grammar|
|Andrew Grant||The Oratory||5||Ian Nagle||Glenstall Abbey, Limerick|
|Nicholas Roberts-Huntley||Blundell’s||6||James Kilroe||Diocesan College, Cape Town|
|Will Wilson||Wellington College||7||Daniel Dass||Belfast Royal Academy|
|Fraser Heathcote||The Leys||8||Sam Farmer||Bedford|
|William Thornton||Sedbergh||16||Paddy Calvert||Down High School|
|Hugo Lu||Reading||17||Jacob Poulton||Portsmouth Grammar|
|Kieran Ball||Wellington College||18||Demitri Moros||Hampton|
|Graeme MacGilchrist||George Watson’s College||19||Lola Erogbogbo||Sir Joseph Williamson’s|
|William Thomas||Brynteg Comprehensive||20||Stephen Leonard||Llandovery College|
|James Faktor||Latymer Upper||21||Seb Tullie||Bradford Grammar|
|Andrew Abraham||RGS Lancaster||22||Mike Phillips||Bedford Modern|
|Edward David||Harrow||23||George Williams||St Paul’s School, Barnes|