One of the oldest clichés in sport is the saying that the mark of a good team is one which finds a way to win, even when playing badly. It is perhaps a sign of the talent available to Captain Conor Kearns that, in what was arguably one of the Blues worst performances thus far, his side were able to put 40 points on the current BUCS Super Rugby frontrunners.
Their opponents, Northumbria University, have been arguably the leading university side in the country this season, arriving at Iffley road off the back of convincing wins over rugby powerhouses Loughborough, Hartpury and Durham. However, the team which lined up against the Dark Blues was slightly weakened, with 5 starting players missing. Similarly the Oxford side had several players out through injury whilst Canadian winger Dan Moor had received a call up to represent the national side against the New Zealand Maori. Yet it remained the strongest possible Oxford lineup and, with 6 victories already this season, this was a team brimming with confidence.
The match started accordingly, with Oxford making a massive line break off the first phase of the game. A Kearns penalty on 6 minutes set the tone and soon the Blues began to gain ascendency through their big forward runners. The pressure told as Tom Stileman yet again crashed over the line, 3 Northumbria defenders left in his wake. A scrappy 20 minutes saw the visitors finally get possession, only to be repelled by aggressive Oxford defence. A frustrating half saw both sides butcher tries as the Blues, playing in their alternate white strip, lacked the clinical edge which had been so impressive in previous games. The one exception was a try to winger Rob Quinlan, who glided through the defence and straight under the posts. With a further penalty kicked by Kearns the score at half time was 18-0.
The second half was initiated by Oxford’s best period of play in the game, a huge hit off the kick off, followed by a brutal counter attack saw Stileman score again in the corner. He would add another try to his haul soon after, making his record 9 tries in the last three games, sending a clear message that he is one to watch on December 7th. Wholesale substitutions for both sides on 50 minutes saw the game grow increasing unstructured and a Northumbria resurgence, culminating in their only try. Oxford would add two more tries before the games end; a penalty try and a score for back row Rob Talotti.
A final score of 40 – 7 suggested a dominant Oxford performance and whilst happy with the result coach James Wade was clear that there was plenty of room for improvement. Now with a record of 7 wins in 8 games momentum continues to build for the Dark Blues in the run up to the Varsity Match. 3 games remain, starting with the Major Stanley’s invitational side today who will pose a very different threat to any faced thus far. This is a special Oxford side, one going from strength to strength, and there is no doubt that if they can continue this run of results Conor Kearns will be walking out of the tunnel at Twickenham a confident man.
Tickets for the Varsity Match available at £15
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