Oxford pay the penalty

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The Independent Online
If Lady Luck was an undergraduate she must have gone to Cambridge. Oxford, the darkest of dark horses, paid the harshest of penalties for defending their line and then suffered the cruellest of defeats.

In a matter of minutes, joy for the Dark Blues turned to despair, to elation and finally to the worst moment of all in a Varsity match, shattering defeat.

The unfortunate consequence of an extraordinary climax is that the 114th game in the series will be remembered not so much for Jonathan Evans' winning try in injury-time, not so much for a record-breaking contribution of 19 points from the Oxford stand-off, David Humphreys, but for the most bemusing and controversial decision by the referee. Tony Spreadbury awarded Cambridge a penalty try when they were trailing 16-9 with five minutes to go.

The Light Blues had been pressing for most of the second half when Tyrone Howe tackled his opposite number and, when the ball fell loose, Cambridge knocked on with the line at their mercy. Spreadbury signalled a penalty try, the first in the history of the Varsity match. Howe, the Oxford captain, asked Spreadbury one question: why? The referee replied: "Oxford were offside three times in a row."

Later Spreadbury elaborated. "There was a try-scoring opportunity," he said. "And Oxford were deliberately offside. I'd mentioned to them that we couldn't keep going down the line of awarding penalty after penalty."

Lynn Evans, the Oxford coach, also questioned the decision. "To award a penalty try," Evans said, "there has got to be the probability of scoring. There wasn't and the ball was dropped, anyway. It was not the best decision he made in the game."

It was certainly the most contentious. Evans pointed out that when Ashforth kicked the conversion to level the scores, there was silence from the crowd, not out of respect but bewilderment. In the final minute Humphreys, who had given Oxford a 16-6 lead at half-time, kicked a penalty after a drop goal attempt hit an upright and there was still time for Evans to score the winning try.