Varsity Match 2018: Dark Blue Delight
Nigel Cox reports:
05/03/18: On a cold day, mercifully free from interruptions by snow, a strong Oxford team inflicted the most one sided defeat on Cambridge in living memory.
As an unashamed dark blue partisan this was to a degree satisfying but Cambridge were swept away in all six men's pairs with such consummate ease that the match lacked any great tension. In the first pair match Kirkby & Piggot beat Houlden & Merrett 12 – 6, 12 – 2, 12 – 6 in a game characterised by Kirkby’s persistently good retrieving and Piggot’s frankly brutal volleying. The game lasted about an hour and a half with some quite long breaks and was really the only remotely competitive match of the afternoon. The few spectators on a fiercely cold day were disappointed as nearly the same players last year (Tom Kirkby playing instead of James Cobb) had produced a memorable cliffhanger of a game, where either side could have been the winner. The other two Blues game matches and all three of the second team matches were over before the second game in the first pair was finished. The scores speak for themselves.
The University teams are always dependent on the chance vagaries of who gains admission from the principal fives playing schools and this year Oxford have had a prosperous well run club and an unusually strong men's team with probably the best first pair for many years and a stronger team at lower pairs than almost any previous University side.
In the past Oxbridge has produced over half of all players who have gone on to win the Kinnaird Cup, so these matches are sometimes important spotlights on the future of the game. There is no doubt that Oxford were helped by the availability of League Division One games playing for North Oxford in a happy symbiosis of town and gown not presently available to Cambridge. However there are now fewer fixtures by major clubs against the Universities which raises the question of the value of the University game. Amongst the 24 girls 71% had started their fives whilst up at University, thus representing a significant addition to the total pool of adult players. Of the boys only 8% had started their fives whilst at University. At a time when we need more adult players for the health of the game perhaps appointing separate second team secretaries might lead to more input into developing new players. It might also be worth considering whether there should be a separate Varsity game devoted solely to those who have not played before going to Oxford or Cambridge. There are after all three courts still left unused at Eton on the afternoon of the match. Another possibility might be to have automatic inclusions of University teams in the League, though with only 8 week terms this might be difficult. However this should not detract from the achievements of Oxford this year and I hope that all the members of this fine team will continue to play long after they have left Oxford.
In the Alumni match in the morning somewhat thinned down by the snow, Oxford also won 3 – 0, but in close games (3-1 in the first pair, and 3 – 2 in the second and third) and including several players who had only started their Fives after leaving University. May the FiveStar Project thrive!
Gareth Hoskins reports:
It is easy to forget sometimes that the first six pair ladies Varsity Match was only played in 2011, such is the equal standing of the match now on Varsity Match day. This equality with the men's match was also reflected in this year's scores, as Oxford dominated proceedings to win the first team match 3-0 and the second team match 2-1, with the Cambridge sixth pair of Hannah Gilliland & Miranda Nicholson coming from a game down to record the day's sole Light Blue victory.
Even in the rowing-induced absence of Under 21 champion Carolina Valensise, Oxford still had plenty of firepower at the top of the order, with Old Cholmeleian fresher Marjolaine Briscoe confirming her status as the season's leading young player in the women's game, partnering fellow ex-Highgate player Helen Pugh to a thumping victory at first pair over Sophie Kelly & Susanna Xu, who were powerless to stop the Briscoe onslaught. Another OC, Georgia Allen, teamed up at second pair with captain Elena Zanchini, who crowned her three year journey from complete novice to winning captain with a hard-fought win over her Cambridge counterpart Annie Calderbank (another to have taken up the game at University) and Old Salopian Ursule Taujanskaite. The 3-0 first team win was completed at third pair by former captain Rosie Parr, in her final Varsity Match, and Nina Ludekens, who gained a measure of revenge for her 2017 defeat at the hands of Lottie Simpson at fifth pair by defeating Lottie and Emma Vinen in straight games.
The second team match featured mainly players who have taken up the game since arriving at Oxford or Cambridge and several who are still very inexperienced and with this in mind, the standard in all three pairs was hugely impressive (if not always the knowledge of some of the more nuanced laws of the game!). One of the exceptions to the "started at University" rule was Oxford's Isla Duporge at fourth pair, who became the first player from City of Norwich school to play in the fixture, partnering the vastly improved Lauren Rowley to a convincing win over the promising Jenny Blackburne & Annabelle Molyneux. Possibly the closest match of the whole day was at fifth pair, where Oxford's Laura Stokes & Miwa Sykes recovered from 6-11 down in the first game against Clara Calderbank & Tess Hopkins to take it 14-12, going on to win the next two games with some smart tactical play against a Cambridge pair who showed huge amounts of promise if they continue to play and get more time on court. That just left Hannah & Miranda to claim a consolation win for Cambridge over Helena Khullar & Julia Routledge before the teams reconfigured themselves for the now traditional friendly mixed fixture, the evening champagne reception courtesy of Pol Roger and the dinner, which this year took place in Upper Club rather than the traditional Bekynton thanks to the much-appreciated efforts of Mike Hughes, Ralph Oliphant-Callum and Phil Keen.
Oxford names first
Men's First Team Match: Oxford won 3-0
1. T.Kirkby (Eton & St.Anne’s) & J.Piggot (Eton & St.Catherine’s) beat B.Merrett (Westminster & Peterhouse) & R.Houlden (Westminster & Christ’s) 3-0 (12-6, 12-2, 12-6)
2. J.Cobb (Eton & St.John’s) & S.Oppenheimer (Eton & Christ Church) beat N.Turnbull (RGS, High Wycombe & Trinity Hall) & J.Parham (Eton & Clare) 3-0 (12-2, 12-2, 12-2)
3. O.Denby (Harrow & Hertford) & A Wellesley (Eton & Exeter) beat J.Capstick-Dale (Eton & Queens’) & V.Gudiwala (QE Barnet & St.John’s) 3-0 (12-1, 12-6, 12-3)
Men's Second Team Match (Penguins vs Peppers): Oxford won 3-0
1. N.Caplin (Latymer Upper & Magdalen) & E.Macdonald-Buchanan (Eton & St.Benet’s Hall) beat K.Bilimoria (Eton & Caius) & A.Shah (QE Barnet & Clare) 3-0 (12-2, 12-4, 12-3)
2. T.Critchley (Westminster & Pembroke) & O.Sale (Eton & Wadham) beat P.Wilkinson (Rossall & Sidney Sussex) & H.Kalaiya (QE Barnet & Clare) 3-0 (12-3, 12-1, 12-1)
3. D.Dootson (Shrewsbury & Keble) & J.Greenhouse (City of London & Regent’s Park) beat A.Roy (St.Olave’s & Christ’s) & S.Turner (Torquay Boys’ Grammar School & Churchill) 3-0 (12-4, 12-5, 12-7)
Ladies First Team Match: Oxford won 3-0
1. M.Briscoe (Highgate & University) & H.Pugh (Highgate & University) beat S.Xu (Wallington High School for Girls & Caius) & S.Kelly (Benenden & Magdalene) 3-0 (12-0, 12-0, 12-1)
2. G.Allen (Highgate & University) & E.Zanchini (D’Overbroeck’s & St.Catherine’s) beat A.Calderbank (Wycombe Abbey & Peterhouse) & U.Taujanskaite (Shrewsbury & Selwyn) 3-0 (12-9, 12-7, 12-6)
3. R.Parr (Shrewsbury & Christ Church) & N.Ludekens (Hills Road Sixth Form & St.Catherine’s) beat L.Simpson (Rugby & Robinson) & E.Vinen (Westminster & Fitzwilliam) 3-0 (12-2, 12-7, 12-7)
Ladies Second Team Match: Oxford won 2-1
1. I.Duporge (City of Norwich & LMH) & L.Rowley (North London Collegiate & St.Catherine’s) beat J.Blackburn (St.George’s, Ascot & Emmanuel) & A.Molyneux (Hills Road Sixth Form & St.John’s) 3-0 (12-3, 12-2, 12-5)
2. M.Sykes (Haberdashers’ Aske’s School for Girls & St.Peter’s) & L.Stokes (Clifton College & University) beat T.Hopkins (Dame Alice Owen’s School & Murray Edwards) & C.Calderbank (Wycombe Abbey & Robinson) 3-0 (14-12, 12-4, 12-6)
3. J.Routledge (Magdalen College School & Merton) & H.Khullar (Westminster & Christ Church) lost to H.Gilliland (St.Leonards-Mayfield & Newnham) & M.Nicholson (Wycombe Abbey & Murray Edwards) 1-3 (12-10, 9-12, 7-12, 1-12)
Alumni Match: Oxford won 3-0
J.Flowers & M.Platt beat R.Tyler & C.Vincent 3-1 (9-12, 12-6, 12-7, 12-10)
H.Asquith & S.Thatcher beat M.Gwynne & R.Morgan 3-2 (14-13, 4-12, 12-5, 6-12, 12-4)
M.Chinery/R.Wood/S.Nowinski* beat W.Thomas & R.Thorogood 3-2 (12-7, 4-12, 9-12, 12-3, 12-2)
*rotating game by game