Rugby Union / University Match: Rees' tactical nous gives an edge to Oxford: University match attracts record crowd as lightweight Cambridge come unstuck after failing to contain Dark Blue threat

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THE University match needs no justification, not as long as it has as many as yesterday's record 66,000 turning up to it, but these days the principle of the fixture is subject to as much debate as the rugby contained in it. Oxford's comfortable win was exciting and flawed: in other words, nothing new.

Not that we should necessarily be looking for great significances, but that they do exist in the participants' minds was shown by the winning captain's reaction. 'It is a unique experience,' Chad Lion-Cachet, the South African with the exotic monicker, said. 'The chaps might not be used to the whole international flavour but for the likes of us it is an international occasion.'

It is certainly an international-size crowd, bigger by far than any that will be seen at Cardiff Arms Park, Lansdowne Road, Murrayfield or Parc des Princes when the Five Nations' Championship runs its course in the new year. Of course the rugby did not, could not, approach that seen the last time there was a game here - England v New Zealand - but in its way it was just as epically exhausting of the players.

And Oxford were as clear winners now as England were then. Their pack won a minority in the line-out but elsewhere were markedly the sturdier and in Gareth Rees, Canada's outside-half, they had the one man on the field with the experience and consequent tactical appreciation to control the game. Chris Tynan, Rees's international half-back partner, might have done the same for Cambridge but never had a similarly solid platform in front of him.

He also missed his kicks, all four of them, whereas Rees landed three from six - a poor return by his standards but critically better than Tynan's - and dropped a vital long goal from 45 yards which gave Oxford a six-point half-time advantage. 'It was not a beauty,' Rees insisted. 'It was a wounded duck.' Nevertheless, it flew.

Cambridge knew, and had said so, that how tightly they restricted Rees would be the key to the match and they never quite did the needful. The only surprise was that Oxford's first drop goal came not from the Canadian but from Laurence Boyle and then, in the moments of crisis after Cambridge had responded to the lengthening Dark Blue lead with a fine try it was Oxford who emerged the stronger.

The Light Blues had been fortunate to escape with a Rees penalty, given for offside when Andrew Arentsen had also deliberately knocked on (a free-kick offence) a scoring pass. Having somehow avoided a penalty try, they made the first decisive attacking penetration when Paul Flood cut a diagonal path through midfield to send the looping Adrian Boyd through Mike Joy's tackle.

At the time the score was 12-8 and Cambridge had not released their hold on the Bowring Bowl. But Alasdair Kennedy hit a post, aiming for his second drop goal even though there was a try opportunity on his outside, and thereafter the fortunes of the 20-year-old Scottish stand-off degenerated alarmingly.

Rees had kicked his third penalty by the time Fanie du Toit charged down a kick by the horror-struck Kennedy, regathered and ran away from 40 yards. For this relief Du Toit, whose pass to Rees was not unfailingly accurate, gave much thanks. 'I was not having the most confident of games and suddenly I was just there. It was amazing]' he gushed.

Indeed, Oxford owed as much to their South African as to their Canadian connection, though in this the Afrikaners Lion-Cachet and Du Toit were secondary to the superlative Anglo No 8, Andrew Aitken. Sorry, not Anglo but Caledonian. Aitken, from Durban but of genuine Scots descent, wishes to play for Scotland and on this evidence his wish may soon be granted.

Oxford: Try Du Toit; Penalties Rees 3; Drop goals Boyle, Rees. Cambridge: Try Boyd; Drop goal Kennedy.

OXFORD UNIVERSITY: M Joy* (Marling School Stroud & Keble); R Wintle (Cynffig CS Bridgend, St Mary's Hospital & Univ), L Boyle (Binswood Coll Leamington Spa & Keble), E Rayner (Dauntsey's & Oriel), T Watson (Radley & St Edmund Hall); G Rees (St Michael's Univ School, Harrow, Univ of Victoria & Keble), S du Toit* (Paul Roos Gymnasium, Stellenbosch Univ & Christ Church); B Fennell (St Edward's Oxford, Durham Univ & Keble), D Henderson (Glenalmond, St Andrew's Univ & Keble), C Clark (Marlborough, Swansea Univ & Keble), J Daniell* (Wanganui Collegiate, Eton & St Catherine's), D Evans* (Bro Myrddin Carmarthen & St Anne's), C Lion-Cachet* (Pretoria Boys' HS, Univ of Cape Town & Keble, capt), A Aitken (Durban Boys' HS, Univ of Cape Town & Keble), N Martin (King Edward's Birmingham, Birmingham Univ & Keble).

CAMBRIDGE UNIVERSITY: A Dalwood (St Alban's, Bristol Univ & St Edmund's); A Arentsen (Cardiff HS & Corpus Christi), P Flood* (Stonyhurst, Swansea Univ & St Edmund's), A Palfrey (St Cyre's CS Penarth, West London Institute & Hughes Hall), A Boyd (St Olave's GS & Jesus); A Kennedy (Fettes & St John's), C Tynan (Magee HS, Univ of British Columbia and Hughes Hall); T Hughes (Harrow & Trinity), A Read* (Royal GS High Wycombe, Loughborough Univ & Hughes Hall), P Callow* (Oakham & Fitzwilliam, capt), R Bramley (Queen Elizabeth GS Wakefield, Nottingham Univ & St Edmund's), S Roy (David Hughes CS Menai Bridge, Bristol Univ & Hughes Hall), P Irons (Wellington Coll, Loughborough Univ & Hughes Hall), A Meadows (Sedbergh, Newcastle Univ & St Edmund's), N Richardson (King's Worcester, Loughborough Univ & St Edmunds). Replacement: W Thompson (Arnold & Magdalene) for Flood, 68. Temporary substitute: J Duckworth (Bradford GS, Durham Univ and St Edmund's) for Callow, 31-33. * denotes Blue.

Referee: D Bevan (Clydach).

(Photograph omitted)

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