Report From the 2010 Varsity Match
Polo: Oxford 5 Cambridge 4
Cambridge made desperate efforts to catch a skilful Oxford polo side, yet time was against them handing the Dark Blues a narrow 5-4 victory.
The top deck of the Pimms Bus provided the perfect view of the match this Saturday, a tradition dating back to 1879 (the match, not the bus!). Hosted by the Guards Polo Club in Windsor, the glorious sunshine did much to relieve the agonising pang of defeat. Yet for a side ranked far behind Oxford by handicap, to come so close on the day was a testament to the tenacious skill of the Cantabridgian side.
Despite initial confusion over whether the handicap was to be applied, potentially giving Cambridge a two-and-a-half goal lead, eventually it was decided to ignore them: in many ways a fateful decision for the Light Blues, handing Oxford the initiative.
And as the first Chukka began, Oxford showed their skill with excellent pressure on the Cambridge goal. In spite of a stumble by Oxford number 2, Tarquin Wethered, Oxford kept control of the ball. Yet moments later Cambridge scrambled a clearance shot to turn the tables on the Dark Blues, leading to a composed attack on the Dark Blue goal. After a brief scuffle as horses jostled for position, Cambridge number 4, Tobi Edun was able to put Cambridge into the lead for the first and only time.
Sadly, Oxford came back quickly, mounting a powerful attack through the heart of the Cambridge defence. The pressure proved too great, and Cambridge conceded a soft penalty. Lined up 30 yards from the now undefended Cambridge goal, Oxford 4 and captain, Tom Mayou rode up and took his chance bringing Oxford back level with Cambridge, the first Chukka ending 1-1.
The second Chukka began with the players remounted on a new set of fresh Argentinean ponies but also with renewed Oxford pressure, immediately breaking for the Cambridge goal. Oxford's Tom Mayou, quickly scored to put Oxford ahead for the first time. To the horror of the Cambridge travelling support, this was swiftly followed by the referee awarding Oxford with a penalty, which they converted with relish. Yet Oxford's pressure and expanding lead spurred Tobi Edun into action, galloping the length of the field to narrowly miss pulling a goal back for Cambridge. Yet the penalty he won, after an Oxford pony kicked the ball away, gave them to chance to close the gap to one goal. Edun did not disappoint, renewing Light Blue hopes and putting Cambridge firmly back in the battle. Cambridge ended the Chukka in style, putting Oxford under pressure and earning raucous cheers from their supporters, although their efforts proved fruitless.
But with Cambridge on their tails, Oxford rode into the third Chukka with renewed intensity, putting the Light Blues back under pressure. Oxford's Tom Meacher intercepted a daring run by Edun, a Nigerian international, to work towards the Cambridge goal and winning a penalty after a Cantabridgian hoof turned goal-keeper. The Oxford goal scorer, Tom Mayou, took the penalty but missed narrowly, much to the relief of Cambridge. However, the pressure soon returned when Oxford received a free shot. Yet the remarkable Edun struck again, blocking the ball as it flew towards the goal. In the scuffle of flying mallets and kicking hooves however, the ball crossed the Cambridge goal line, deflecting in off a hoof to take Oxford into a two goal lead. Another goal for Oxford stretched the gap to three goals. Unfortunately time was against the Light Blues as the Chukka ended during a powerful dash from Edun leaving them behind, 5-2.
The fourth chukka presented a bleak picture for Cambridge, and the crowd seemed more subdued, almost resigned to defeat. But Cambridge rode out with their head high. After a short burst of Oxford pressure, Cambridge were able to push towards the Oxford goal. A scuffle in front of the posts in which an Oxford hoof blocked the ball led to a Cambridge penalty. Edun seized the chance and closed the gap. Oxford attacked again however and heroics on the line, again by Tobi Edun were all that prevented a final Oxford goal. The dying seconds of the match saw Cambridge dash for a final goal to take them into extra time, but as the ball crossed the line, the final bell sounded, drowned out by Cambridge cheers. To the despair of the Cambridge team, Oxford were handed the victory by a millisecond.
Speaking after the game, Cambridge star, Edun said he was ‘gutted' to lose, but applauded the quality of the Oxford play. The Oxford captain, Mayou admitted that Oxford were lucky to have avoided the handicap.
With the standard of polo ever-rising, the stage looks set already for another close match next year..
Meanwhile, Cambridge came home with some pride as the seconds beat the Oxford seconds 6 - 2. Consequently, many of the Cambridge seconds will be hoping for starting places next year.