Cambridge University Women defended their Varsity title on the 30th anniversary of their famous clash with Oxford University Women thanks to an 8-5 victory at Twickenham.
Success at the home of English rugby means the Light Blues have closed the gap to 19-13 in their head-to-head meetings with their closest rivals.
A first-half try from Emily Pratt gave Cambridge a 5-0 interval lead and it was one they didn’t lose as Alice Elgar kicked a penalty in the second half.
Oxford finished like a train and grabbed a late score through Katie Collis – their first Varsity points in 241 minutes – but it was not enough.
The opening 10 minutes were a tight affair, both teams winning breakdown penalties as they threw themselves into what was a very physical contact area.
Oxford thought they’d got away when following an up and under, captain and centre Abby D’Cruz collected and freed wing Harriet Wigginton who sped clear. Play, though, was pulled back for a forward pass.
Sophie Trott’s huge hit on Cambridge wing Sophie Farrant summed up a compelling opening, but after the opening quarter the game still remained scoreless.
After a period under pressure, Cambridge escaped from their own 22 and although D’Cruz was a class apart on the field, Oxford’s opponents were now back in with a sniff.
They won a kickable penalty close to the Oxford line. Scrum-half and skipper Kate Marks tapped and went, but was held up over the line. It mattered little.
From the reset Cambridge No 8 Pratt crashed over in the corner to open the scoring. The conversion from Elgar was unsuccessful.
Cambridge lost Mary Coleman and Jenni Shuttleworth to blood injuries which summed up the nature of the contest and Oxford flanker Maria Bernier was also yellow carded for a high tackle.
It failed to stop the Dark Blues from finishing the half strongly. Full-back Connie Hurton charged towards the line but was held up as Cambridge went to the break 5-0 to the good.
Coleman and Shuttleworth returned to the field for the start of the second period and Elgar made amends for her earlier miss by kicking an early second-half penalty.
It extended Cambridge’s lead to eight points, but the Light Blues were then dealt a blow with wing Harriet Wigginton taken from the field on a buggy after being caught by a high tackle by Oxford’s Helen Potts. Somehow a yellow card wasn’t given, but Cambridge full-back Lara Gibson soon hit back with a sensational solo run from inside her own half.
As the game entered the final quarter, Oxford were left to chase the game and they saw more of the ball, but Cambridge’s wall of defence stood firm with some impressive tackling.
By the final 10 minutes both teams had unloaded their respective benches and Oxford went for broke.
The stand-out D’Cruz was at the heart of everything, but just when it looked like a try was coming, the Dark Blues turned the ball over.
Still they kept coming and finally, Oxford broke through. Potts should have scored, but the ball was recycled and lock Collis came up with the goods.
D’Cruz couldn’t convert and that was the end of the scoring as Cambridge celebrated.
Oxford University Women: Hurton; Wiggington (Simpson 58), Trott, D’Cruz (capt), Potts (Welllens 75); Kennedy (Carter 67), Ling; Ellender (Cartwright 69), Bidgood (Rees 77), Sopher, Opara (Vodounon 57), Collis, Bernier (Durbin 57), Murison, Cooper
Replacements not used: Male
Cambridge University Women: Gibson; Farrant (Brough 59), Nicholls, Coleman (Bradshaw 31-40), Miller; Gimson, Marks (capt); Orriss, Pierce, Chan (Abele 65), Elgar (Taylor 59), Bramley (Spruzen 50), J Shuttleworth (Hoshizaki 31-40), F Shuttleworth (Hoshizaki 77), Pratt
Replacements not used: Clark, Meju
Cambridge University Women
Oxford University Women
Referee: Nikki O’Donnell
Player of the match: Amelia Miller (Cambridge)