Light Blues stem emotional tide

Oxford University 7 Cambridge University 23
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The Independent Online
In the end, the tears said it all. Any magic that might have surrounded the 115th Varsity match evaporated into thin air when Ian Tucker, the Oxford University centre from Sydney, lost his life to the sport he loved six weeks ago, but it was not until an hour after the final whistle that the reality emerged.

With the hype and hullabaloo of the occasion finally behind him, Quentin de Bruyn, the Oxford captain, charged with the unenviable task of rebuilding his side in the face of tragedy, managed to combine eloquence with obvious emotion as he put recent events into much-needed perspective.

"Ian was the best tackler in the side, the fittest and most motivated guy we had," he said. "When we lost him, the emotional life of all of us stopped for three days. It was a matter of all being there for each other; personally speaking, I couldn't face spending a second alone. I couldn't go to sleep thinking that when I woke, everything would be OK. It wasn't like that. There was no end to the tunnel.

"We had lost our best player and the effects of what happened meant that we played poor rugby for two or three games. Poor rugby becomes a habit and it was only relatively recently that we were able to break it. Effectively, we had to prepare for this game in the space of three weeks, so I'm proud to think that we went out there and gave everything we possibly could in memory of Ian."

It was a touching address, all the more impressive for the fact that it was delivered by a man suffering from concussion. De Bruyn, taken off on a stretcher with his head encased in a protective brace after mis-timing a tackle on the Cambridge scrum-half Ben Ryan early in the second half, could remember nothing of the circumstances of his own injury. But Steve Hill, the Oxford coach, confessed to an "awful feeling in the pit of my stomach", adding: "My thoughts went straight back to Ian when I saw Quentin lying there."

Perhaps appropriately, there was little for the 74,000 Twickenham crowd to enthuse about on so bleak and mournful an afternoon. Cambridge, led superbly by Richard Bramley, were so superior at scrum and line-out that their opponents, starved of both possession and field position, were unable to add to Trevor Walsh's charge-down try in the fourth minute.

What little brilliance there was came from the Light Blues centre Matthew Singer who scored two tries of a quality that bore no relation to virtually everything else that happened in terms of attacking rugby. Ironically, the 24-year-old mathematician considers the midfield to be alien territory - "I'm a full-back first and foremost," he admitted afterwards - although the coaching staff at Saracens, where he has played since leaving Neath last year, may now address that apparent incongruity as a matter of urgency.

His first try on 36 minutes, followed three minutes later by the sharpest of drop goals, came from a double dart off his left foot; the second, clinching score seven minutes from time came off his right. With Bramley's tight five in complete control, it was more than enough.

"I can honestly say that I wasn't too concerned when we went behind so early - the way we've started this season, I was surprised we held out so long," joked Bramley, whose intense scrummaging bore the same stamp of ferocity as his single-minded captaincy. "I knew we had Oxford on the back foot in the set-pieces and while that advantage seldom manifests itself early on, it really does tell in the last 10 minutes."

As acute tactical summaries go, it was spot on. But just for once, an appreciation of the finer arts of bump and grind meant about as much as the final scoreline. That is to say, nothing at all.

Oxford: Try Walsh; Conversion Averis. Cambridge: Tries Singer 2; Conversions Surridge 2; Penalties Surridge 2; Drop goal Singer.

OXFORD UNIVERSITY: R Maher (St Ignatius Coll, Sydney and University); C Smart (Sherborne and Trinity), Q de Bruyn (Diocesan Coll, Cape Town and Keble, capt), T Walsh (St Joseph's Coll, Brisbane and Keble), R Browne (St Michael's College, Dublin and Univ); J Averis (Bristol Cathedral Sch and St Cross), N Hogan (Terenure Coll, Dublin and Merton); J Bothwell (Marlborough and Merton), N Hockley (King Edward's Sch, Birmingham and Worcester), D Penney (Mt Pearl Sen High Sch, Newfoundland and Wolfson), T Eisenhauer (St Ignatius Coll, Sydney and St Anne's), K Spicer (Clongowes Wood Coll, Dublin and St Anne's), M Orsler (King's Canterbury and Christchurch), C McCarthy (St Mary's Coll, Dublin and Templeton), J Kindon (Millfield and Queen's). Replacement: T Jensen (St Edmund's Canberra, St Anne's) for De Bruyn, 53.

CAMBRIDGE UNIVERSITY: P Surridge (St Kentigern Coll, NZ and Hughes Hall); M Walne (Caerleon Comp and St Catharine's), M Singer (Wycliffe Coll and Homerton), N Hill (St Ignatius, Sydney and St Edmund's), R Phillips (Ys gol Gyfun Llanhari and Homerton); R Ashforth (Bradford GS and Peterhouse), B Ryan (Wimbledon Coll and Homerton); G Reynolds (Cheshunt Sch and Homerton), T Murphy (St Joseph's Coll, Nudgee, Australia and St Edmund's), N Holgate (Armthorpe Comp, Doncaster and Robinson) R Bramley (Q Elizabeth GS Wakefield and St Edmund's capt), A Craig (Taurarigo Boys Coll, NZ and Hughes Hall), M Hyde (St Ignatius Coll, Sydney and St Edmund's), J Griffiths (Crossley Heath, Halifax and St Edmund's), R Earnshaw (Yarm Sch and St John's).

Referee: J Pearson (Durham).

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