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Oxford v Cambridge Varsity: Epitome of Amateur Rugby

Yesterday Find Rugby Now had the opportunity to attend the Oxford v Cambridge rugby match at Twickenham to watch Oxford produce an incredible second-half comeback to win 26-19 and take home the trophy for the Dark Blues for the third year in a row.

For a full write-up of the event, check out the BBC article here.

The Varsity Match at Twickenham has been the focus of Oxford and Cambridge rivalry since 1872 and this past Thursday marked the 131st anniversary of the event.

Cambridge still holds the winning record at 61 wins to Oxford’s 56, but Oxford has the momentum with this year’s third consecutive win.

“It is one of rugby’s great occasions, a wonderful Twickenham experience founded upon the finest traditions of the game,” the Varsity website states.

What is interesting about the Varsity match is that it is one of the only high-profile matches that continues to be played today at an amateur level.

Now, don’t get me wrong, these are not your normal amateur players. Most of them have played at the highest levels for their age levels, including England representational and Academy level. They train almost to a professional standard and the squads always include international calibre players.

Over the past years, the Varsity Match has included appearances by over 600 international players, including rugby legends Joe Roff, Nick Mallett, Gavin Hastings and Anton Oliver.

However, the majority of the players are undergraduate or graduate students at the University who have never played at the professional level. For some of the players the Varsity match will be the most important match of their entire lives and even for the international players that take part it is a very unique experience.

The passes are not perfect, the kicks don’t always go over, but the spirit of the match is the epitome of the rugby game. The passionate crowd is composed of current students and alumni of the universities – many of whom personally know current or past players – cheering at the top of their voices for their university to win.

The Oxford crowd chants:

Shoooe the tabs!” and “I would rather be a leper than a tab!” (the word tab comes from cantab, which is an abbreviation placed after academic letters such as B.A. or M.A. for Cambridge graduates).

The Cambridge crowd chants back:
God damn bloody Oxford.

The passion runs high and a loss for a side equals total devastation for both players and fans since revenge is a full year away. At times when the professional game is plagued by scandals and changing loyalties, the Varsity match is a continuous reminder of complete love and dedication in amateur rugby. It is this passion for the amateur game that continues to make Varsity one of my favourite matches of the year.

The rivalry between Oxford and Cambridge has existed since the 1200s and the rugby Varsity match continues to be the most competitive of the annual Varsities along with the rowing. Check out the Varsity website for more information here.


About Ellaine

Ellaine is the founder of FRN and author of “Mini and Youth Rugby: Complete Guide for Coaches and Parents” (published October 2015). She has been playing rugby union for over 10 years in the UK and the US for teams including Oxford University Blues, London Wasps, Henley, NOVA, and GWU. She has recently developed a love for rugby 7s and has played on several international rugby 7s teams. She also enjoys playing touch rugby and regularly plays for the FRN Mixed Touch Rugby team. She is passionate about helping others develop a love for rugby.

View all posts by Ellaine

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