COUNTING DOWN TO THE VARSITY MATCH – THE ONLY GAME PLAYED ON 3 DECEMBER

03 Dec 2019

There are nine days to go to the 138th Varsity Match and there has only ever been one ‘Battle of the Blues’ staged on 3 December.

It was the third game in the greatest series of amateur fixtures in the history of the game and was played at The Oval in 1873. There was a crowd of 700 at a game that ended in a draw with each side scoring a try apiece – Cambridge skipper John Batten and another future England player, Arthur Michell, for Oxford.

Duncan Pearce made history by becoming the first player to appear for both sides in the Varsity Match. The Clifton College product had turned out for Oxford in the earlier game in February, 1873, at Parker’s Piece in Cambridge because the visitors arrived seven men short.

The game was due to be played at 20-a-side, but Oxford only arrived with 13. Pearce, then a 20-year-old undergraduate studying to enter the church at Trinity Hall, was loaned to the other side.

Cambridge won by a goal and two tries to nil. Some 10 months later, he was in Cambridge colours at The Oval in a full 20-a-side game that ended in a draw. He went on to win a third Blue in the drawn game in 1874.

Included in the Cambridge side at The Oval was Henry Wace, who also won two Blues at football. He went on to play for England at football as well, winning three caps, and also won FA Cup winners medals with Wanderers in 1877 and 1878.

Both those finals were played back at The Oval, as was his second and final rugby Blue, the 1874 draw with Oxford.

There were no fewer than 17 players from Rugby School in the 40 who took the field on 3 December, 1873, with Marlborough providing seven, Wellington four, Haileybury and Clifton three each and Blackheath Proprietary School two. The other players came from Shrewsbury and Felsted.

Game Report played on 3 December, 1873, from the Glasgow Herald: