Toby Flood's final Twickenham appearance ends in frustration as Oxford edge Varsity Match

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Toby Flood of Cambridge University. - Matt Impey/Shutterstock
Toby Flood of Cambridge University. - Matt Impey/Shutterstock

Oxford 21 Cambridge 17

Toby Flood’s final appearance at Twickenham went the same way as his first and last for England – with a defeat.

His international debut came off the bench in 2006 and saw Argentina snaffle their first win at the home of English rugby courtesy of an interception try from a Flood pass. His 60th cap, against the All Blacks seven years later, also ended in defeat.

His hopes of exorcising ghosts past looked pretty slim when you compared the Cambridge pack to their Oxford counterparts. The Dark Blues were 3kgs per man heavier and had four internationals.

To add to Flood’s difficulties, he had only managed 90 minutes of rugby with his young team-mates because of a hamstring injury. Experience can only carry you so far when you are 36.

If the odds were stacked against a magical farewell at a ground where he played 32 times for England and twice for Leicester Tigers in Premiership winning sides, they became almost insurmountable when the skipper Stephen Leonard went down, Luke Wylllie scampered over at the post for the first of three Oxford tries in the first half and then Charlie Friend became the first Cambridge player to be sent off in a fixture that was celebrating its 150th anniversary.

The TMO spotted a kick to the head at a breakdown, although Cambridge coach James Shanahan felt his man was more sinned against than sinner after examining the evidence. He pulled his foot out of a tackle, lost his balance and accidentally caught the US Eagles giant with his foot as he stepped back.

Referee Andrew Jackson had sent-off Oxford’s Bertie Watson at Leicester in last year’s event for a similar offence, while another Dark Blue, Sam Egerton, was the first to complete the walk of shame in the 2012 game.

So dominant were the Oxford pack in the opening 40 minutes that they scored almost at will. Civetta and his fellow American international, Andrew Durutalo, both crashed over from close range and David Wilkinson converted them all to make it 21-0 at the break.

“You lose your line-out leader, your captain and then conceded three tries. It seemed as though someone had a voodoo doll and was having a really good go at it,” said Flood about the first half.

“But all credit to our boys for the way they conducted themselves and came back into the game. They showed a huge amount of character because at half-time we were done and dusted.”

The second half was a different story and the Light Blues hit back to win it 17-0 with only 14 men. It also contained one of the greatest tries seen in any of the previous 139 games between the ancient rivals. From the re-start that followed Luke Parry’s try, Demi Obembe ran 70 metres from right to left to score in the corner.

Alex King added a third in the final move of the match and had Jamie Benson’s two earlier conversions not hit the upright, the great escape might have been completed.

Match details

Scorers: Oxford: Tries: L Wyllie, N Civetta, A Durutalo; Cons: D Wilkinson 3. Cambridge: Tries: L Parry, D Obembe, A King; Con: J Benson

Oxford: S Reynolds (Sherborne & University); L Wyllie (St Hilda’s), L Furniss (Michaelhouse & Kellogg), L Jackson * (King Edward VI, Stratford & Oriel, captain), H Hackett * (The Perse & Christ Church); D Wilkinson (Tonbridge & St Edmund Hall), C Grant * (The Oratory & St Anne’s); T Osborne (St Joseph’s, Sydney & Trinity), A Post # (Harrow & St Cross), E Fry # (Jesuit HS, USA & Keble), P Von Dadelszen * (Whitgift & St Edmund Hall), N Civetta # (Scarsdale HS, USA & Wolfson), E Friend * (Blundell’s & St Cross), M Mason (Tauranga Boys HS, NZ & St Cross), A Durutalo * # (Suva HS, Fiji &Green Templeton)

Reps Used: C Papworth * (Sedbergh & Jesus) for Durutalo 54; B Vaughan * (Bradford GS & Corpus Christi) for Fry 66; T Humberstone * (Peter Symonds College & Jesus) for Wilkinson 68; O Marriott-Clarke * (Eton & Magdalen) for Wyllie 75; L Wright * (Dulwich & Trinity) for Post 79; E Blake (King’s College, Wimbledon & St Hilda’s) for Civetta 79; A Friend (Blundell’s & St Anne’s) for Reynolds 79; G Coningham (RGS, Newcastle & St John’s) for Osborne 79

Cambridge: J Benson (Hampton School & Downing); D Russell * (Havant & South Downs College & St John’s), S Chibale * (SA College Schools & Queens’), M Loveridge (Nottingham HS & Jesus), T Andrew (Pates GS & Jesus), T Flood (Kings Tynemouth & Queens’) #, C Favell * (Bishop Stortford College & Homerton); B Jackson * (Minster School & Sidney Sussex), J Wright (Fallibroome Academy & Jesus), M Pettit * (RGS, Lancaster & Clare), C Friend (Harrow & St John’s), Z Bischoff * (Magdalen College School, Oxford & St John’s), S Leonard * (Llandovery College & Emmanuel, Captain), T Walton (Nottingham HS & St John's), A Smeaton * (Hymers College & Queens')

Red Card: C Friend 9

Reps Used: D Obembe * (St George’s Weybridge & Churchill) for Leonard 11; A King (Kings College, Wimbledon & St Catharine's) for Loveridge 52; P Harris (The Henley College & Hughes Hall) for Jackson 63; L Parry * (Merchant Taylors’ Northwood & Downing) for Wright 66; D Montesino Jones (Kings College, Wimbledon & St John’s) for Smeaton 72; L Marwood (Hymers College & St Edmund's) or Petit 76; J Kururangi * (St Kentigern College & St Edmund's) for Bischoff 78; D Holdroyd (Adams’ GS & Jesus) for Favell 78;

* Blue
+ International

Referee: A Jackson (RFU)

Oxford Women 10 Cambridge Women 10

Cambridge brought the grunt, but Oxford had the guile, and in the end it was the latter that almost won the day.

Instead, the more physical approach from Cambridge just got them over the line with an equalising try from their Mexican prop Vianney Gomezgil Yaspik with six minutes left to play. Laura Vass had the chance to win the game with her conversion, but sent it wide.

That was probably the best outcome become Jessica Abele’s Oxford side had been forced to suck up so much pressure and the front and back ends of the game they deserved to get something out of the game.

Having been on the winning Cambridge side in 2018, Abele was hoping to make history by becoming the first player to win in both shades of blue and her team came mightily close to upsetting the odds. Thy did at least halt Cambridge’s run of four successive wins in what was the first draw in the 35 year history of the fixture.

“We had so many chances going wide and it was the last little touches that were missing to win the game. There were a lot of penalties early on and that’s what led to me getting a yellow card,” said Abele.

“But we will go away with our heads held high. It was an incredible performance and I’m immensely proud of my team.”

Varsity Match. - The Varsity Matches
Varsity Match. - The Varsity Matches

It was one-way traffic for the opening 10 minutes after Cambridge kicked-off and encamped in the Oxford 22. It took every ounce of energy and drop of courage to keep the Light Blue marauders at bay, but Laura Bleehen’s side were in no mood to be denied.

Moments after Abele had been shown a yellow card for constant infringements by her side, Hetta Friend powered over from close range to open the scoring. First blood to Cambridge.

The Dark Blues successfully negotiated the rest of the 10 minutes one player down and gradually grew in confidence. They made headway behind the scrum when they won the ball and, with a slightly more sympathetic referee, might have had tries from their wings Chloe-Marie Hawley and Kehinde Lawal.

They were both put away and raced to the line, but Nia Parsonage called them back both times for marginal forward passes. They finally got their just rewards five minutes from half-time when Meg Isaac was sent crashing over by her Colombian international team-mate Estefania Ramirez Castillo.

Three minutes into the second half the outstanding Dark Blue flanker Lauren Webb, later named as the winner of the Buntin-Pegers Award as the player of the match, brushed aside three would-be tacklers to give her side the lead. Abele was unable to add the extras and the final 37 minutes saw Cambridge chase the game.

Yaspic got them on level terms, but that was as good as it got for them. A titanic tussle ended all square and nobody was complaining.

Match details

Scorers: Oxford: Tries: M Isaac, L Webb. Cambridge: Tries: H Friend, V Yaspik

Oxford: C Holmes * (Chellaston Academy & University); C Hawley (JESS Dubai & St Catherine’s), A Travers * (Lady Eleanor Holles School & Worcester), C Gill (United World College of SE Asia & Queen’s), K Lawal (Ursuline HS, Wallington CG & St Catherine’s); M Cohen * (Norton HS & Jesus), E Ramirez Castillo + (School Hacienda los Alcaparros, Colombia & Geen Templeton); J Shorey (Nonsuch HS for Girls & St Hilda’s), R Martin (Ashby School & Brasenose), M Mellor * (Ripon GS & Somerville), I Kilcoyne (Henrietta Barnett School & St John’s), J Osborne (All Saints RC School, York & Regent’s Park), J Abele * (Schickhardt Gymnasium, Germany & Exeter, captain), L Webb (Solihull School & Corpus Christi), M Isaac * (King Edward VI, Camp Hill & Exeter)

Reps: I Zani (Nonsuch HS for Girls & Keble) for Holmes 42; A Wilkins (Pate’s GS & Lady Margaret Hall) for Shorey 54

Cambridge: E Bell * (St Philomena’s HS & Fitzwilliam); C Russell * (Stamford HS & Fitzwilliam), L Vass (The Perse School & Fitzwilliam), T Brough * (Oxford HS & Queens’), N Twigg (Llanfyllin HS & Homerton); E Jones * (King Edward’s School, Bath & Selwyn), M Bushrod * (Ysgol Gyfun Pencoed CS & Pembroke); L Bleehen * (Howell’s School, Llandaff & Girton, captain), S Hicks * (Colchester RGS & Selwyn), V Gomezgil Yaspik * (Bishop’s College, Canada & St Edmund’s), H Schneemann * (Regional School Pantarjin, Holland & Darwin), H Friend * (Wycombe Abbey & Robinson ), R Scowan * (Greenhead College & Magdalene), S Lamont (King Edward VI, Morpeth & Corpus Christi), L Gregory * (Sussex 6th Form College & Corpus Christi)

Reps: D Burrowes (Dame Alice Owen’s School & Trinity Hall) for Russell 46; E Goddard (Durham Johnston CS & Pembroke) for Twigg 46; S Ubong (St Angela’s Usuline School & Darwin) for Gregory 46; C Prowling (Rodillian Academy & Pembroke) for Hicks 54; R Halcrow (Dowdale School & Fitzwilliam) for Schneehann 54; S Johnson (Bridgewater HS & Pembroke) for Halcrow 60

Referee: N Parsonage (RFU)

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