Rugby Union / University Match: Blues band on the run: Twickenham sold on showpiece

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The Independent Online
HOWEVER much of the Oxbridge ballyhoo is really hype, it is evidently swallowed in large, liquid measures by the punters who pack Twickenham. For the rest of the populace, those in work anyway, today is no different from yesterday or tomorrow, yet this afternoon 54,000 will fill the ground for the 111th University match.

For reasons best appreciated by City types enjoying a day out, this increasingly hardy annual transcends issues of sporting excellence, the logic that suggests the biggest crowds will turn up for the best matches. But then this is an occasion far more than a match and when Twickenham's capacity has risen again next year, we may be certain it will still be sold out.

Among the curiosities as Cambridge defend the Bowring Bowl is that most of those present will have no direct interest in the outcome. Apart from the players and the 20,000 or so who always formed the hard core of the fixture's support, everyone else is happy just to be there. The champagne will flow in the car parks but probably not in the rugby and hardly anyone cares. In fact, by 5 o'clock tonight many will be past caring.

All of which makes it the last of rugby union's great Corinthian occasions. Thirty lads doing their best for their university may have a quaint air of 'up-school' but the University match is greatly the beneficiary from the fact that its vast audience, on television as well as in person, is interested in seeing a good game rather than either side win.

As for the players, the distinction between them and the crowd could not be greater. None of them will ever, not in an entire career, feel himself to have more at stake than he does today. Even the Oxford flanker Brendan Nasser, holder of eight caps for Australia, accepts that he must approach the game as if it were a Test match; for many of his team- mates and opponents it is their Test match, or the nearest they will ever get to one. Hence Cambridge's use as tutor of Wayne Shelford, the former New Zealand captain.

Given that the atmosphere will be more charged than anything most of them have faced or will face, how individuals respond to a wholly unfamiliar circumstance is generally the key to the winners. 'A one-off game like the Varsity match is very difficult to predict because you can never be sure who will play above himself and who will freeze,' Lynn Evans, the Oxford coach, said.

By this standard, Oxford have more of the requisite experience - not in old Blues, where Cambridge have a 6-5 advantage, but in men of stature such as Nasser and their South African contingent for whom the University match ought to be something to take in their stride, sort of. Fortunately, it seldom works out so simply and if the Dark Blues are most people's favourites, that suits the Light Blues perfectly.

This assessment is based on Oxford's impressive win over a poor Stanley's XV and Cambridge's unimpressive defeat by a better Bodger's. According to the influence-peddlers at Grange Road, this was the Light Blues' worst performance of the term and laid on for the special benefit of the watching Dark Blues.

Since then the Greyhounds have drawn first blood for Oxford by beating the LX Club 7-3 in the second-team match and it is unmistakable that Oxford's multi- national conglomerate should have too much at forward, whatever the potential match-winner Audley Lumsden may achieve out on the wing, for Cambridge's more home-spun assemblage.

Hopley's high hopes,

Malone's ambition, page 28

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