Rugby Union: Batstone blows Oxford's cover: Steve Bale reports from Twickenham

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Cambridge University. . .19

Oxford University . . . .11

THEY come from far and wide - from the City of London anyway - but in the end the rugby in the University match is liable to be of interest to Oxbridge folk alone. The nature of yesterday's 111th version of the universities' main event did not explain why 54,000 were there to see it.

But then rugby in shades of blue seldom lives up to the game's extravagant advance billing. The second Tuesday in December tends on the cool side, but Twickenham usually overheats. So yesterday there was too much kicking: when was it any different. Too many nerves: it was ever thus. Too little ambition or creativity: the grinding pressure and tension militates almost annually against the taking of risks.

Had fortunes not ebbed and flowed, with the lead changing hands, it might even have been as forgettable as the 6-0 1967 match. It was not quite that bad, Cambridge's underdog struggle giving it its substance far more than questions of either strategy or tactics.

Oxford, arriving with a better record and supposedly better individuals, began with a rush in keeping with their favourite's status but first failed to score and then so failed to sustain their effort that after their excellent try they were as lost as the game. For that they could blame Cambridge's greater collective quality, initially manifesting itself in heroic defence while Oxford were striving to exploit their superiority at close quarters and, in particular, in the line-out.

Later, as the Light Blue back row grew in dominance, so did Cambridge's chances and ultimately - however much ball may have been hoofed aimlessly away - they deserved to retain the Bowring Bowl and increase their advantage to 51 wins to Oxford's 47. Once again predictions were meaningless; once again the supposedly smart money went on the wrong horse.

And that is the fixture's charm, its capacity not only to give City gents a boozy day out before Christmas but also to deny and defy the obvious. Indomitable courage counts for as much as skill when Oxford and Cambridge come together at Twickenham and the Light Blues had it in ample measure.

They set out to contain because they had no alternative while Oxford had their early armlock on the game, and when the Irish stand-off Niall Malone missed his first penalty it was as if a siege had been lifted. Moments later Cambridge's first combined attack put them close enough for Lloyd Davies to drop a goal, the third Davies brother (after Graham and Adrian) to score in the University match.

Hereafter, the scoring became as frenetic as the rugby. Malone, a delightful touch player who has handling and running abilities to match his more frequent kicking, landed a penalty and dropped a goal. Paul Flood levelled with the game's third drop and Davies re- established the Light Blues' lead with a penalty two minutes into a second half that was to last 49.

Instantly, Oxford fashioned an archetypal scrum try, heeling swiftly for Brendan Nasser to pick up and feed Fanie du Toit, standing back like a quarterback in the shotgun. With Cambridge anticipating a thrust to the open side, Du Toit slipped up the blind and sent David Spence dashing for the corner, clear of Davies, who had moved a long way over to cover his opposite number.

These were the moments when Cambridge showed a strength of character to fit their grand occasion. Oxford's lead had to be restricted to two points. Once that had been accomplished, Cambridge went past with a second Davies penalty and clear when Richard Batstone was somehow freed by Kevin Price and Matthew DeMaid after their captain, Eric Peters, had committed the bulk of the Dark Blue cover.

Cambridge: Try Batstone; Conversion Davies; Penalties Davies 2; Drop goals Davies, Flood. Oxford: Try Spence; Penalty Malone; Drop goal Malone.

CAMBRIDGE UNIVERSITY: *L Davies (Pencoed Comp, UC Cardiff & St Edmund's); S Burns (St Dunstan's Coll & Magdalene), D Hopley (Harrow, St Andrew's U & Hughes Hall), P Flood (Stonyhurst, UC Swansea & St Edmund's), R Batstone (Epsom Coll & Downing); *K Price (Aberdare Comp, UC Cardiff & St Edmund's), *M DeMaid (Lady Mary High, St David's Coll Cardiff, Bristol Poly & Hughes Hall); D Perrett (Perse Cambridge & Jesus), A Read (RGS High Wycombe, Loughborough U & Hughes Hall), P Callow (Oakham & Fitzwilliam), D Bickle (Nower Hill High, Weald Coll, Durham U, Birmingham U & Hughes Hall), *D Dix (Shore Sydney, Sydney U & Hughes Hall), *M Duthie (Backwell Comp & Queens'), *E Peters (Brentwood, Loughborough U & Hughes Hall, capt), R Jenkins (Oundle & Downing).

OXFORD UNIVERSITY: M Joy (Marling Stroud & Keble); A Lumsden (Alfred Sutton Reading, Bath U & St Cross), *K Street (King Henry VIII Sch Coventry & Christ Church), D O'Mahony (Christian Brothers Coll Cork, UC Cork & Keble), D Spence (St Andrew's Coll Johannesburg, Stellenbosch U, Natal U & Keble); N Malone (Methodist Coll Belfast, Loughborough U & Keble), *S du Toit (Paul Roos Gymnasium, Stellenbosch U & Christ Church; I Buckett (Holywell High, UC Swansea & Univeristy), *M Patton (Campbell Coll Belfast, UC Cardiff & St Catherine's, capt), *A Williams (Fishguard Comp, UC Cardiff & St Anne's), *D Evans (Bro Myrddin Sch Carmarthen & St Anne's), J Daniell (Wanganui Collegiate, Eton Coll & St Catherine's), B Nasser (St Joseph's Brisbane, Queensland U & Keble), B O'Mahony (Presentation Brothers Cork, UC Cork & Keble), C Lion-Cachet (Pretoria High, Cape Town U & Keble). Replacement: D Currie (RGS High Wycombe, Loughborough U & Templeton) for Lumsden, 79.

Referee: E Morrison (Bristol)*denotes Blue

(Photograph omitted)