The Varsity Match The Game To Banish The Winter Blues

Tomorrow my thoughts will momentarily drift back to my childhood, when one of the things I most looked forward to in the lead up to Christmas, was sitting in front of the fire, on that annual Tuesday afternoon, to watch Oxford and Cambridge battle it out.

The earlier years of this advent treat were broadcast in black and white on a television that looked more like a cocktail cabinet, so on a dark damp December day, there were thirty players running around in various shades of grey, not as many as fifty, fortunately.

The Varsity match, and sports review of the year, as it was then called, were the best Christmas  present a young sports mad boy could receive, and the BBC provided both, every December.

The match itself always seemed to have an international player or two playing to make it even more exciting.

My first memories are of 1968 when Cambridge beat Oxford 9-6, Wales and Lions legend Gerald Davies played at centre for The light Blues that day, in a star studded back line that included fellow Wales internationals Keith Hughes, and Ian Shackleton, Jack Page, John Spencer and Tony Jorden, all of whom went on to play for England.

Oxford, on the other hand, had one of the world’s greatest ever scrum halves in their side, All Blacks legend Chris Laidlaw.

The try, in those days, was worth three points, Oxford outscored Cambridge two tries to one, but lost the game as the result of Shackleton’s dropped goal and McKenzie’s penalty, what a start, I was hooked.

The following year, 1969, Cambridge fielded the same star studded back line, whilst Oxford were reinforced with the presence of England’s legendary full back Bob Hiller and scrum half Nigel Starmer-Smith, who went on to play for England, and became even more famous as a television and radio commentator.
The match ended in. 5-5 draw, both teams scoring a converted try.

From 1968 to 2014 this match produced and showcased many household names including Gavin Hastings, Rob Andrew and Eddie Butler.

Of course these days there is also the added bonus of the women’s varsity match played before the men’s.

Matches have come and gone in sunshine, rain, hail, sleet and snow yet whatever the weather, Twickenham was nearly always packed to the rafters and the festivities, both sporting and those in liquid form, were thoroughly enjoyed by all those who attended.

As technology moved on, black and white turned to colour, and the experience became all the more enhanced as a result, particularly in the 1981 match, when the whole of Twickenham was covered in a white blanket, and Oxford and Cambridge supporters united, for once, to pelt Prince Edward with snowballs. A match refereed by Clive Norling.

The match may have lost its appeal in the professional era, and crowds have diminished, but for us old timers, there is still something nostalgically warming about this encounter, it celebrates another rugby year coming to a close, and the prospect of new one just around the corner.


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