Oxford and Cambridge agree to Varsity match switch

13 Jul 2020

The four rugby captains at Oxford and Cambridge have agreed to move the Varsity Matches from their traditional December date to later in the season due to the coronavirus crisis.

With the significant face-to-face contact incurred in the 15-a-side game, uncertainty remains about a start date for the Community game in England. Oxford’s captains Fiona Kennedy and George Messum and Cambridge’s Elisha Clark and Steve Leonard, have therefore decided to move the annual ‘Battle of the Blues’ from 10 December to the second half of the regular season. This is to ensure all four teams, female and male, are given sufficient training time to properly prepare for their annual challenge.

With the RFU currently in negotiations with Six Nations and other parties on planning some Autumn internationals to replace their original fixtures, the Varsity Match organisers were also mindful that they could find themselves caught up in a fixture log-jam.

Tim Jones, Chairman of the Varsity Match Company Ltd said “With all the uncertainty surrounding amateur contact sport, crowds at Twickenham and the return to play for rugby at student level, everyone feels we have made the right decision to move the date of the game.

“We are currently looking at a date in March, 2021, to stage the game. Talks are on-going with both Clubs, the RFU and broadcasters to find the best possible day.

“The Varsity Match has an incredible history as being at the pinnacle of amateur rugby. It retains a strong following and continues to provide a vital financial lifeline to both Clubs.

“It is important for both sides that the time and date are selected as soon as possible for the fixture given the current climate. We will continue to work with all stakeholders to determine these key points as soon as possible.

“We are currently agreeing contingency plans with the RFU for anyone who has purchased a ticket for 10 December. We will be communicating with them with various options as soon as we agree on a new date.”

Cambridge came up trumps at Twickenham last season as they won 15-0 in front of a crowd of 22,863 in the men’s match to move them into a 64-60 lead in a series that dates back to 1872. Cambridge also won the women’s match 8-5 to complete a Light Blue double.

Here are the thoughts of the Captains:

Steve Leonard (Cambridge Men’s Captain)

“We are all very aware of the difficulties that everyone is experiencing in these difficult times and both George and I felt we had to make an early call on whether or not to commit to the original date for this year’s Varsity Match.”

Elisha Clark (Cambridge Women’s Captain) 

“We all want our players to have the best chance to prepare properly for a match that is like no other in terms of its history and significance to both teams and their supporters. For most of the players, their biggest concern at the moment is ‘when will they be able to get back onto campus and back to lectures?’”

Fiona Kennedy (Oxford Women’s Captain)

“Moving the Varsity fixtures to the second half of the season provides an opportunity for us to build significant momentum towards the event through giving us extra preparation time to ensure that these historic fixtures can be played with an intense and exciting energy to match the occasion. This willingness to positively adapt the timing of the Varsity Matches demonstrates a desire to make the day a more exciting event as well as delivering greater preparation time for a highly anticipated contest, and Oxford will relish this opportunity to drive it to greater heights.”

George Messum (Oxford Men’s Captain)

“We are hugely excited to see a change to the spring and what positive benefits this can have for the two Varsity fixtures. The additional time will enable all four teams to have greater preparation and produce a level of rugby that can match the physical intensity of any professional matches around. Combined with the traditional fierce rivalry between the two universities, this opportunity will only further enhance the overall event. By making this decision early, it allows our key stakeholders to be bold in planning an exciting an innovative event within the rugby calendar. Oxford is well underway in its preparations and I am excited at the level this group of players and staff can reach during this period.”

Oxford celebrated their 150th anniversary last season and Cambridge are preparing for a similar birthday next year. The Varsity Match will celebrate 150 years on 10 February, 2022, while 2021 will also be the centenary of the first game at Twickenham.