The battle of the Blues, with the rivalry of Oxford and Cambridge Universities, is legendary in the sport of polo. The summer Varsity match, first played in 1878, is the oldest annual match played in Europe. Now, 138 years later, on 23 January 2016, Cambridge University hosted the inaugural Winter Varsity Arena Tournament versus Oxford at the pristine grounds of the Cambridge County Polo Club, in front of a large and supportive crowd.
Oxford’s line-up of Heather Winsor, Aurelia Vandamme and Issa Dasu Patel took on a Cambridge side of Clifton Yeo, Ben Lawrence and Tripurdaman Singh.
The first goal didn’t come until three minutes into the match when Cambridge’s Ben Lawrence hit a clean backhand into goal, just out of reach of the staunch defensive efforts of Issa Patel. Oxford were not deterred and continued to play like a well-honed team. Heather Winsor tapped in two goals in quick succession to take the lead with a score of 2-1 with just two minutes remaining. Countering quickly, Cambridge’s Clifton Yeo scored a runaway goal to level it 2-2, only to be countered by Aurelia Vandamme, running the ball along the right wall to safely edge Oxford ahead by 1. With just 30 seconds remaining Ben Lawrence, collecting a pass from Tripurdaman at the back, equalised the chukka to take it to 3-3.
The second chukka began with Cambridge quickly racing out to a 5-3 lead with a clever deflection from Tripurdaman Singh then echoed by Ben Lawrence. However, the spirit of the Dark Blues was not to be so easily squashed with Heather Winsor not only seizing the reins of her horse but also the game, racing down the pitch for a beautiful clean counter goal from just inside 15 yards. This brought Oxford back into touch of a win, closing out the second chukka 7-5 to Cambridge.
The third chukka was notable for Oxford’s skill in marking by Aurelia and Issa, mixed with deft positional play and determined counter attacking right down to the last minute by the Dark Blues’ Heather Winsor. However, with a home-ground advantage, large supporting crowd and pride on the line, the raw strength and determination of the Light Blues was too much to beat on this day. Ben Lawrence was ruthless in his pursuit of the goal, dominating in the ride-offs to tap in multiple goals from along the fence, placed in perfect position by his experienced team-mates Tripurdaman and Clifton. Despite a last minute goal from Oxford it was Cambridge’s day as they came away with the win, 13-9.