What a difference a year makes! Twelve months on from conceding eight tries in a record 52-0 defeat to Cambridge, Catherine Wilcock’s Dark Blues upset the odds to win 3-0 at Twickenham.
Last year it was the Cambridge full back Alice Middleton who stole the show with her hat-trick of tries and 27 points. This time even she was upstaged by her opposite number Sophie Trott.
Trott had only played the game for five weeks before making her debut last year, but she was the defensive rock on which Light Blues hopes were dashed time and time again as Oxford tackle themselves to a standstill to hang on to their 15th minute lead.
Just as Middleton had been everyone’s choice as the winner of the inaugural Bunting-Peggers medal as the player of the mach in 2015, so Trott walked away with the title this time for her massive contribution to the 236 tackles put in by the winners.
Trott halted Middleton, Sophie Farrant and Lara Gibson in their tracks with try-saving tackles as the Dark Blues won for the first time since 2014 in the 30th staging of the Women’s Varsity Match. The win also earned Oxford points in the BUCS Premier South division, guaranteeing them a place in the top league next season with a fourth win of the season,
Oxford, coached by former England World Cup winning coach Gary Street, came out fired-up from the start and they enjoyed a rich spell of possession that had them camped deep in Cambridge territory. After 15 minutes their relentless pressure was rewarded when skipper Wilcock slotted a penalty in front of the posts.
Handling errors haunted Cambridge’s progress as they went in search of a quick response. Middleton burst into a gap to put Cambridge on the attack, only for Oxford to valiantly turn the ball over.
It was proving to be frustrating for the reigning champions as a patient period of play in the approach to half-time saw them inch forward only to be halted once again by the Dark Blue tacklers. Oxford began to tire as they put their bodies on the line time after time in the second half as they were faced with wave after wave of Light Blue attacks
Trott almost got clear as she made ground out wide, but Middleton slammed her into touch 10 metres short. Cambridge looked menacing after that and spent a tense final quarter inside Oxford’s 22 seeking the match winning score.
Farrant slipped her way towards the corner, but was stopped dead in her tracks by Trott, as was replacement wing Gemma Robson. Back rower Chloe Withers then got over the Oxford line with a minute left on the clock, but she was held up as the Dark Blue heroics continued to the final whistle
Scorer: Oxford: Pen: C Wilcock 15.
Oxford University: Sophie Trott * (Wadham); Apphia Bunting (New College) (G Robson, 34), Princess Ashilokun * (Magdalen), Heli Copley * (Keble), Millie Rose (St Anne’s); Catherine Wilcock * (Wadham, Captain), Carly Bliss * (St Edmund Hall); Jenny Smith (St John’s), Pat Metcalfe-Jones (Christ Church), Cecilia Peker * (St John’s), Leanne Robinson * (Keble), Elmarie van Heerden * (Lady Margaret Hall), Hester Odgers (Lady Margaret Hall), Caitlin McArdle * (Green Templeton), Sophie Behan * (St Edmund Hall)
Replacements: Gwen Cartwright (New College), Carolina Matté-Gregory (Mansfield), Harriet McCay (New College), Sophie Taylor (St Hilda’s), Mollie MacGinty (St Hilda’s), Imogen Duffy * (Oriel), Gemma Robson (St Benet’s Hall), Katarina Martinovic (St Catherine’s)
Cambridge University: Alice Middleton * (Lucy Cavendish, Captain); Laura Suggitt * (St Edmund’s), Mary Coleman (Kings) (S Farrant, 35), Jessica Charlton * (Newnham), Lara Gibson * (Lucy Cavendish); Kate Marks (Murray Edwards) (S Evans, 45-50, 77), Molly Byrne * (Jesus); Alice Elgar * (Girton), Emma Pierce (St Catherine’s), Laura Nunez-Mulder * (Emmanuel), Gabriella Johansson (Churchill) (K Sanchez-Schilling, 75), Olivia Probert (Downing), Nikki Weckman * (Trinity), Chloe Withers * (Fitzwilliam), Emily Pratt (Emmanuel)
Replacements: Katerina Sanchez-Schilling (St Edmund’s), Catriona Brickel (St Catharine’s), Jacqueline Bramley (Girton), Tabitha Burgess (Fitzwilliam), Sophie Farrant * (Emmanuel), Sophie Evans (Gonville & Caius), Katherine Monks (Homerton)
Referee: Claire Hodnett (RFU)