Oxford University 19 Cambridge University 21
A thundering climax in which the fate of the 114th University match lurched from one side to the other left Oxford with the darkest of dark blues last night after losing one lead through a contentious penalty try and then another to the ultimate match-winner by Jonathan Evans.
All this took place during five alternately agonising and ecstatic final minutes. Oxford were clinging on as if their lives depended on it - which is roughly how the participants view this occasion - to the 16-9 lead given them by the superlative Irish out-half David Humphreys.
In the most desperate defence Tyrone Howe inserted himself into yet another Cambridge attack, prompting Tony Spreadbury to award the penalty try for deliberate offside as the ball fell to ground. Spreadbury said he had warned the Dark Blues and Howe in particular that his patience was wearing thin.
You would not expect Howe, a dignified as well as defeated captain, to accept the referee had been right - and he and his coach, Lynn Evans, said so afterwards as politely as they could. But the try, followed by Rob Ashforth's equalising conversion, was but the beginning of the drama.
Oxford made their way into the unfamiliar territory of the Cambridge half and when Humphreys hit the post with a drop-shot he was given, and took, a penalty which might just have been Spreadbury's way of making up for the penalty try.
The game was then 50 seconds into stoppage time when Cambridge made their last assault. Evans may be a hooker but he not only insinuated himself into midfield but in making the Oxford line had the beating of Mermagen, Rush and De Bruyn.
Considering the sniffy attitude of some soulless folk towards this fixture - though not, one supposes, the 70,000 who turned up yesterday - it is astounding how it contrives to throw up such vivid incident. Last year's, also won by Cambridge, was an epic of fluctuating fortunes and if this had less to commend it overall, it was a no less thrilling example of the underdog biting back.
No wonder Oxbridge captains and coaches talk down their chances year by year. In 1994 Cambridge were the rank outsiders; this time Oxford were supposedly even less favoured, yet they established a lead which they held for 59 minutes and during the fairly brief period when they were winning a share of the ball they played a fluid, pleasant type of rugby not always in keeping with the occasion.
Ashforth's early penalty, the first of three, was cancelled by Humphreys' only success from four drop-goal attempts followed by two penalties and then a try when Humphreys danced past Nick Holgate. When he converted he equalled Gareth Rees's Oxford record of 16 points set last year; with his final penalty he equalled Alastair Hignell's University match record of 19, for Cambridge in 1975.
It was cold comfort. The Dark Blues had pushed themselves to the limit in building a surprising lead and their only realistic objective after Humphreys's try was to defend their lines.
That they did so as well, and for as long, as they did was its own testimony. "Rarely have I played a side that has been written off as much, and rarely have I played in a side that has played with as much courage as that side," Howe said - an intriguing view given that it has been Oxford themselves who have been most prominent in downplaying their prospects. In the end you could say they had been right.
Cambridge University: Tries Evans, penalty try; Conversion Ashforth; Penalties Ashforth 3. Oxford University: Try Humphreys; Conversion Humphreys; Penalties Humphreys 3; Drop goal Humphreys.
OXFORD: P du Preez (Queen's School Queenstown, Diocesan Coll Cape Town, Stellenbosch Univ & Keble); S Rush (Harrow, Loughborough Univ & Mansfield), Q de Bruyn (Diocesan Coll Cape Town, Cape Town Univ & Keble), J Riondet (Lycee la Kanal Paris, Sorbonne Univ & Mansfield), T Howe (Banbridge Acad, St Andrew's Univ & Keble, capt); D Humphreys (Ballymena Acad, Queen's Univ Belfast & St Cross), M Butler (King Edward VI Lichfield & St Edmund Hall); C Norton (St Andrew's Coll Grahamstown, Stellenbosch Univ & Keble), K Svoboda (Centennial School Belleville, Toronto Univ, Queen's Univ Ontario & Templeton), C Penney (Mount Pearl HS, Newfoundland Memorial Univ & Wolfson), N Basson (Diocesan Coll Cape Town, Stellenbosch Univ & St Cross), P Coveney (Clongowes Wood Coll Kildare, Cork Univ Coll & New College), M Reilly (St Gerard's School Bray, Trinity Coll Dublin & St Anne's), R Yeabsley (Haberdashers' Aske's & Keble), M Orsler (King's Canterbury & Christ Church). Replacement: M Mermagen (St Bartholomew's Newbury, Exeter Univ & Keble) for Riondet, 48.
CAMBRIDGE: M Singer (Wycliffe, Bristol Univ & Homerton); D Casado (Ampleforth, Newcastle Univ & St Edmund's), T Whitford (The Leys, Leeds Metro Univ & Homerton), S Cottrell (Christ's Coll Christchurch, Otago Univ & St Edmund's, capt), S Sexton (Dublin HS, Trinity Coll Dublin & Hughes Hall); R Ashforth (Bradford GS & Peterhouse), D Maslen (Rendcombe Coll & St Edmund's); L Mooney (St Boniface's Coll Plymouth, Cardiff Univ & Hughes Hall), J Evans (Neath Tertiary, Emanuel GS Swansea, Cardiff Inst & Homerton), N Holgate (Armthorpe CS Doncaster & Robinson), R Bramley (Queen Elizabeth GS Wakefield, Nottingham Univ & St Edmund's), C Simpson (Soham Village Coll, Hills Rd VI Form Coll Cambridge, Loughborough Univ & Homerton), M Hyde (St Ignatius Coll Sydney, Sydney Univ & St Edmund's), S Surridge (St Kentigern Coll Auckland, Auckland Univ & Wolfson), R Earnshaw (Yarm & St John's). Replacement: B Ryan (St Benedict's Ealing, Wimbledon Coll, Loughorough Univ & Homerton) for Maslen, 33.
Referee: A Spreadbury (Bristol).Reuse content