Dublin University FC (DUFC) were defeated by an impressive Oxford Blues side in an exhibition match on Saturday at College Park. Trinity made nine changes to the team that beat Terenure last Friday week, with the likes of Michael Silvester, Max Kearney and regular captain Colm Hogan all rested. Oxford controlled the game for the most part, scoring eight tries to Trinity’s two and never giving the home side any footholds in the match.
Oxford came to Dublin with a point to prove, having lost their four-match winning streak last week, when they were beaten by Canada. As a result, they were eager to show how much they had improved as their Varsity clash with Cambridge in Twickenham looms ever closer.
It didn’t take long for the Blues to show just how much they had improved. Trinity conceded a penalty in the first minute which was deftly put over by Tom Humberstone, Oxford’s out-half. DUFC were unable to win the restart and Oxford wasted no time in getting down to the other end of the pitch and putting more points on the board as touched the ball down to extend their lead to 10-0.
Trinity really struggled to deal with Oxford’s speed from the back of the ruck and seemed to be chasing shadows at times. The ball found its way wide to Charlie Pozniak, the Oxford flanker, who skipped over the incoming Trinity defender with startling agility before sprinting into the corner. Humberstone missed the conversion and Oxford were 15-0 in front after ten minutes
Trinity then began to show a spell of dominance, with Oxford committing a couple of penalties in dangerous areas. Having gone to the corner the first time, a quick tap and go caught the Blues defence sleeping and got Trinity on to the score-sheet with James Fennelly adding the extras from a tight angle. With 17 minutes on the clock, the score was 15-7.
Oxford were not to go quietly into the night however. Their game plan was extremely effective and seemed to tire Trinity out. Blues committed no men to the breakdown while Trinity were in possession, allowing their defensive line to set and preventing Trinity from making any line breaks. This forced Trinity to kick the ball away and let their fullback Ben Ransom attack the line at pace.
At the 27-minute mark, Oxford put a searching kick into the corner looking to pin Trinity back even further. The ball was well fielded by James Fennelly, who got himself into the air just before being hit by the Oxford defence. By the letter of the law, it seemed that Fennelly should have been awarded a penalty, but the referee didn’t see it that way and some good scramble defence saw the ball cleared.
However, possession was all that Oxford needed to put points on the board. Rob Russell made a try-saving covering tackle as the Blues back line broke through en masse. Unfortunately, his heroic effort was for nought as after a few more phases, Oxford managed to drive over the line to re-establish their 15-point lead.
Oxford were relentless as the half-time whistle approached and scored two more tries as their backs seemed to carve through the Trinity defence at will, extending the score to 36-7 with only a few minutes to go in the half. But Trinity impressively held their ground and after a flurry of penalties conceded by Oxford, Trinity crashed over the line to reduce the deficit by seven, ending the half 36-14.
Despite their lead, Oxford had no intention of resting on their laurels and picked up where they had left off as they scored a try from a rolling maul five minutes into the second half. They nearly scored again from the maul a few minutes later but some brilliant defence by the Trinity forwards kept the Blues at bay. Although they enjoyed an extended period of possession, Trinity never really looked like they would break through the well-drilled Oxford defence.
For most of the second half, Oxford struggled to make the same impact going forward as Trinity’s defence was much improved. The home side were forcing penalties and knock ons from the visitors quite regularly which meant that the Blues couldn’t generate the free-flowing rugby they did in the first half.
Unfortunately, all good things must come to an end and with ten minutes on the clock, Oxford’s replacement hooker Josh Navarajesagan ran a great support line and touched down under the posts. Despite forcing a knock on from an Oxford break-away, Oxford managed to get over for another try with the last play of the game. Tom Stileman made the break and had the awareness to see Louis Jackson, the first-year student, on his shoulder. He flicked the ball over his shoulder and Jackson couldn’t be stopped. With Humberstone adding the extra two, the final score was 57-14.
Speaking to Trinity News after the match, captain Alex MacDonald was complimentary of the visiting side: “It was a very tough game out there. Oxford were very physical and thoroughly deserved their win. Full credit to them, they turned up and played an excellent brand of rugby. We wish them and also Cambridge the best of luck in what is sure to be an excellent colours match in Twickenham this year.”
Regarding his own team, MacDonald went on to say: “We’ve had a lot of rugby as a club in the last week to ten days and it showed a bit out there. We’ll be looking to use this week off to rest up and come back a fresher side for Shannon in two weeks’ time.”