Cambridge ended a six-year hoodoo as they claimed a first Varsity Match victory since 2009 with a 23-18 triumph at Twickenham.
A first-half interception try from Mike Phillips gave the Light Blues a vital lead against the run of play before a second half corner effort from his centre partner Rory Triniman secured the win that ensured prop Will Briggs didn’t end up a loser for a sixth time in a row.
It had been a long and painful wait for the Light Blues since Australian international Dan Vickerman last led them to 37-21 victory seven years ago. A see-saw battle began with Oxford’s Basil Strang missing the first opportunity at goal, but minutes later he made amends with a simple shot from in front of the posts.
And with Cambridge on the back foot in the early exchanges, Bristol full-back Charlie Amesbury put a brutal stop to Ed David’s surging run in the midfield to stop Oxford increasing their lead. At the other end, Strang was forced to scramble in order to halt Simon Davies latching onto Fraser Gillies’ teasing kick to the corner.
But it was Cambridge who found the breakthrough three minutes before half-time. Phillips pounced on scrum-half Henry de Barker’s loose pass in a complicated midfield wrap around move and he stormed in at the posts.
The second-half turned into a breath-taking, end-to-end battle. Minutes after the re-start, Strang closed the deficit to one point with a superb penalty from 45 metres that just sneaked its way over the bar.
But Oxford were making errors and they conceded four penalties in a 10 minute spell. Gillies took advantage and converted two of them into points to extend Cambridge’s lead to seven.
The Dark Blues threatened a quick response when Matt Greiger burst onto Henry Hughes’ pass wide out wide, but the full back was eventually bundled into touch by an Amesbury and Gillies combination just a metres short.
Oxford levelled the scores when Tom Stileman’s pop-pass led to Henry Hughes sliding over with ease. Strang added the conversion before Gillies squandered an opportunity to put Cambridge back on top with a wayward penalty.
But when Strang was caught not releasing moments later, Gillies made no mistake to put the Light Blues ahead by three points with 10 minutes to play. Strang skewed a chance to level the encounter as his penalty flew past the right upright.
Cambridge then went in for the kill and a brilliant cross-field kick by Gillies allowed Lare Egorbogbo to release Triniman and allow him to roll out of a tackle and in for a try in the left corner. Gillies added a touchline conversion.
Ed David dived over for an Oxford try in the corner to set up a tense finale, but Strang’s missed conversion meant they trailed by five and ultimately Cambridge earned a deserved win.
Scorers: Cambridge: Tries: M Phillips 37, R Triniman 75; Cons: F Gillies 37, 75; Pens: F Gillies 48, 52, 68. Oxford: Tries: H Hughes 62, E David 77; Con: B Strang 63; Pens: B Strang 12, 42
Cambridge University: C Amesbury (Queens); S Davies (Jesus)*, R Triniman (Hughes Hall), M Phillips (Emmanuel)*, H King (St Catharine’s); F Gillies (Hughes Hall)*, S Tullie (Emmanuel)*; W Briggs (Magdalene)*, A Burnett (Jesus), J Dixon (Downing), A Hunter (St Edmund’s), T Bond (Pembroke), T Stanley (Magdalene), B du Toit (St Edmund’s), D Dass (St Catharine’s, captain)*
Reps: S Hugkulstone (Wolfson) for Burnett 41; Lola Erogbogbo (Clare) * for Hunter 60; R Bartholomew (Jesus) * for Dass 60; Lare Erogbogbo (Jesus) for King 64
Reps Unused: H Somers (Hughes Hall), D Moros (St John’s), C Bell (Girton), G Griffiths (St John’s)
Oxford University: M Geiger (St Catharine’s)*; E David (St Hilda’s)*, H Hughes (Magdalen)*, A Hogg (Keble) (C Kearns, 59), T Stilemen (St Peter’s)*, B Strang (St Stephen’s House), H de Berker (Green Templeton)*; K Ball (Trinity)*, E Hart (St Edmund Hall), J Morris (St Edmund Hall), F Taylor (St Catharine’s, captain)*, A Grant (Kellogg)*, N Roberts-Huntley (Green Templetn)*, G Blomfield (Kellogg), W Wilson (Keble)
Reps: W Thornton (Lady Margaret Hall) for Hart 55; J Beaufils (Jesus) for Grant 74; T Kershaw (Worcester) for De Berker 41; C Kearns (Somerville) for Hogg 59
Reps Unused: J Scaife (Linacre), H Lu (University), J Marsden (Christ Church), G MacGilchrist (University)
Referee: Tim Wigglesworth (RFU)
Alastair Hignell Medal Winner: Brian du Toit (Cambridge)