Durham provides Dark Blues masterclass

Oxford University 18 - Cambridge University 11
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The Independent Online

Oxford, the pre-match favourites, reclaimed the MMC Trophy in one of the better Varsity matches for some time here yesterday.

But this, the 123rd staging of the annual amateur showcase match, was also a trifle one-sided, with the underdogs Cambridge revealing that their bark was worse than their bite.

An Oxford pack bristling with belligerence dominated a dank day and set up a useful platform of possession to emerge with the biggest winning margin in this fixture for seven years.

While the issue looked in doubt when just two points separated the sides, it was to the Dark Blues' relief that their 77th-minute replacement, the pacey Ross Lavery, settled matters within a minute of coming on to the pitch. With his first touch of the ball Lavery, coming in off the wing, cut through the middle, collecting Anton van Zyl's inside pass on the way and stayed just ahead of the frantic Light Blues' defenders to touch down for Oxford's second try of the game.

It was a fitting finale to a match that had got off to an explosive start, when the Oxford captain David Lubans was taken out in the air by the Cambridge flanker Nic Alberts as he gathered the ball from the Light Blues' kick-off. That prompted a fast and furious flurry of punches as players from both sides waded in.

Although Alberts was spared doing time in the sin-bin for his indiscretion, he was destined to make a premature exit and his abrasive and invasive presence at the breakdown was sorely missed by the Light Blues.

In the 23rd minute he was knocked out when attempting to tackle one of the outstanding players on the pitch, the Oxford blindside flanker Ben Durham, who made his bullish presence felt at every opportunity. His stunning breaks and seismic tackles had Cambridge repeatedly grasping at nothing or gasping for air.

Even so, while it was Oxford who snatched an early lead through a Jon Fennell penalty, the first of two by the Dark Blues' fly-half, it was Cambridge who generated the first shock of the afternoon when Fergus Gladstone darted over for his team's only try.

It came from a line-out when Ben Wheeler came round, drew the cover then fed his hooker, the great, great grandson of the four-times British Prime Minster William Ewart Gladstone, and young Fergus did not miss the target. Unfortunately, Jon Ufton's conversion attempt did.

Oxford hit back when full-back Anthony Knox was sent over after a great effort by the Dark Blues to work themselves into position. Matters got a bit messy after that, until Lavery polished it all off.

Oxford: Tries Knox, Lavery; Conversion Fennell; Penalties Fennell 2. Cambridge: Try Gladstone; Penalties Lewis, Ufton.

Oxford University: A C Knox (Keble); J P Boto (University), A M James (Wolfson), J M Whittingham (St Cross), J A Bradshaw (Exeter); J M R Fennell (Pembroke), C G V Mezger (Wycliffe Hall); P J Laffin (St Cross), A J Dalgleish (St Anne's), S A P Brophy (St Catherine's), D R Lubans (St Anne's, capt), A Van Zyl (Templeton ), B J Durham (Keble), T W Hayman (St Cross), R A Woods (St Anne's). Replacements: A D Harris (St Cross) for Van Zyl, 80+1; J A Gaunt (Worcester) for Knox 47-52 & for Bradshaw, 69; R A M Lavery (St John's) for Mezger, 77.

Cambridge University: J D G Ufton; N C R Toy (both St Edmund's), S S Frost (Hughes Hall, capt), E J O Carter (St Edmund's), A A Abiola (St Catharine's); D G Lewis (Hughes Hall), B L Dormer; J A J Cure, A F Gladstone, T W G Kirkman (all St Edmund's), P M Robinson (Emmanuel), A D Gilbert (Fitzwilliam), N F Alberts (Hughes Hall), B J Wheeler (St Edmund's), N J McGarry (Trinity Hall). Replacements: J R Greenblatt (Corpus Christi) for Cure, 68; A J Walters (Hughes Hall) for Alberts, 24; C D Desmond (Girton) for Toy, 66.

Referee: S Lander (Warrington).