May 2015: Light Blues Show Their True Cuppers

Elana Osen reports:

Encouraged by the success of the Cuppers tournament at The Other Place, and in the spirit of friendly rivalry and casual one-upmanship, a new tournament was born; and so the inaugural Cambridge University Eton Fives (Mostly‑)Mixed Cuppers began.

On the afternoon of Saturday 2nd May — a day that will surely now long be remembered in the annals of history for this and no other reason — a ragtag group gathered to do battle. Some were seasoned players in the hunt for glory; some Rugby Fives players tempted by the lure of the buttress; others were newcomers to the sport dazzled by the glittering success of C.U.E.F.C., the gleam of the new Cambridge courts and the glinting of the miniature Cuppers Cup.

Enthusiastic but diminutive tournament organiser, Elana Osen, stood on one of the newly-installed chairs to be seen above the baying crowd, and explained the new rules devised specifically for the occasion.

The delicate perfection of the enormously complicated tournament format was scuppered early on by the late withdrawal of a promising King’s pair due to illness. After much pair rearranging, readjusting and rejigging, the group stages commenced, with the 11 surviving pairs split into 3 groups, each one commandeering a court.

On the end court was Group A, featuring Peterhouse, Homerton/Magdalene, Christ’s and a dangerous Rugby Fives pair from Queens’ and Emmanuel. Though the strong intercollegiate intra-pair relations of the Homerton/Magdalene pair nicely embodied the spirit of the tournament, and though Christ’s attempted to use their beginner’s handicap to their advantage, both pairs found themselves adrift of the top spots. It only remained to establish a group winner. Despite the Osen-Wiseman rule theoretically crippling the chances of the all-male Rugby Fives pair, they dominated the group decider, trouncing Peterhouse 9-2 and earning themselves a bye to the semi-final.

The loss of the King’s team from the middle court’s Group B gave the advantage to the Robinson boys, Rugby and Winchester Fives player James Pinder and occasional fiveser George Barton. However, Clare locked down the group from the get-go, immediately dismantling Robinson and defeating St John’s without letting them anywhere near the scoreboard. Lizzie Tobin and Dan Scott of St John’s then attempted to wrest the group’s number 2 spot from Robinson, but fell just short after a close game.

Meanwhile, the remaining court saw this tournament’s group of death: Group C. The disappointing non-appearance of half of the Trinity pair nevertheless resulted in a win for opportunistic pestering, as Selwyn’s Ben Beltrami stepped into the fray after being spotted playing Rugby Fives on the neighbouring courts. The carefully considered Amazonian Corpus Christi/Caius pair of Issy Turney and Susanna Xu was duly split to produce two less well-thought-out but exceptionally strong pairs: Selwyn/Caius and Corpus/Queens’. Both they and the past-and-present ladies’ captains from Magdalene took no mercy on the valiant Trinity/Clare pair of Akanksha Bhat—another past captain—and James Proctor, conceding a paltry 1 point between them (before a retrospectively-applied handicap). This point then made all the difference after a three-way tie at the top, with Magdalene emerging from the group in pole position, Corpus/Queens’ in second, and Selwyn/Caius losing out, having played with pace and aplomb but ultimately conceding too many points to proceed.

And so, the knock-out rounds were afoot, set to the dramatic music/cacophonous din wafting in from the Varsity Dancesport taking place below. With Magdalene and Rugby Fives relaxing during their well-earned bye, Clare took on Corpus/Queens’ whilst Peterhouse faced Robinson in the Intermediate Round.

The former match was tough to call, the Wiseman rule going someway to offsetting the difference between Clare’s Old Etonian Jack Parham (the tournament’s only competitor from the C.U.E.F.C. Men’s 1st team) and Queens’ Old Olavian Sudhir Balaji, whose finger-related injuries had kept him off the court for much of the year. With Corpus Christi’s Issy the more experienced of the girls, it required a masterful performance from the young Clare pair to take the game 12-7.

The second match saw Robinson try their luck against the pedigree Peterhouse pair of Old Westminster Olivia Prankerd Smith and Old Bryanstonian Will Anderson, but their cross-code experience did little to stem the flow of points after a slew of balls hitting the nets. They then found themselves afoul of Corpus/Queens’ thoughtful and measured play in the 5th-6th play-off, going down 12-5 after a great run to the knock-outs.

Clare then faced a semi-final against the formidable Rugby Fives duo of Jacob Brubert and Ed Kay, two seasoned players of The Other Code. The bona fide Eton Fives mixed pair did well and fought hard, with talented beginner Anna Tindall improving rapidly and Jack flying around the court like his idol Iron Man. Though Clare were one of the tournament’s only Fresher pairs, the Rugby Fives boys ultimately had fresher legs after a lengthy bye and used this and their powerful command of the softer ball to see them through into the final.

The other semi-final on the neighbouring court was arguably the game of the day. Olivia and Elana —l ong-time friends, fives partners, and final-year medics — found themselves facing off for the first time ever in a competitive tournament. Despite Elana’s success earlier in the year with fellow OW Riki Houlden in actual proper mixed competitions (the farcical nature of this one would never have resulted from Gareth’s masterful organising), the smart money was on the Petreans, who ironically benefitted from the Osen revision of the Wiseman rule that saw Elana playing as a Magdalenite ‘male’. As it was, neither team was allowed to seize control of the game, the points racking up in small increments as both jostled for the lead.

Sophie Kelly and Elana’s impetuous but erratic approach then seemed to endanger their chances of proceeding to the final. Peterhouse had countless opportunities to seal the win having battled their way to 13-11, forcing Magdalene’s medics to weather a torrent of match points. Cuts and rallies came and went, with every inch of the court in full use and Will performing heroically despite his ever-reddening face, until the ball finally died on the right of the top court; and it was Magdalene who arose victorious.

Since the Rugby Fives pair had left for other pursuits, the final was postponed to a later date; nonetheless, the tournament ploughed on, with the Plate competition being contested throughout the knock-out stages and beyond.

With Trinity and St John’s having scratched, Nic Walker found himself partnerless — for the fifth time since originally entering a true Homerton mixed pair — after the tournament organiser callously snatched Maddie Skipsey from him to produce a new intercollegiate hybrid. Nevertheless, Nic acquitted himself well, and it was he and the casualties from the group of death, Selwyn/Caius, who put two wins on the board over Christ’s and the recently-formed Magdalene/Clare partnership. The hunt for the Plate’s last podium place therefore featured 2 Wulfrunian males, Christ’s College’s Dom Yates and Clare’s James Proctor, but Dom’s time on the Cambridge courts throughout the year showed, and Christ’s were able to power through to a 9-2 victory after an expertly-placed back-court-to-buttress shot from C.U.L.T.C.’s Miho Sugiyama.

The Plate final then got underway, with Selwyn/Caius doubling up against Homertonian Nic. Susanna Xu of Cambridge’s victorious Varsity 4th pair impressed throughout, and Ben battered the ball in the fashion of a true Rugby Fives player, but Nic single-handedly proved himself worthy of Plate glory in an animated 9-4 victory.

The Cuppers tournament reconvened at the final Cambridge court at Magdalene College the following Thursday. Saturday’s play had produced an unconventional set of finalists for a mixed tournament: the feminine Magdalene pair were shouldering the hopes of their college, Eton Fives players throughout the land and all womankind in their attempt to snatch victory from the Rugby Fives boys. The night-time game started tentatively, with neither pair managing to lay down a gauntlet for the other. Both sides were left waiting for the dam to break, which it duly did for Jacob and Ed, who began to pull ahead as a result of their consistency and unusual shot placement. At 11-9, Magdalene tried desperately to make the game into another step stand-off, but an unfortunate deflection off the top of the buttress sent a cut out of the court, leaving them 1 game down. The composure they had shown in the semi-final was lost; Rugby Fives started the next game well, and Magdalene’s inability to get on top of their cuts inexorably led to a resounding victory for the male protagonists.

The presentation ceremony for the C.U.E.F.C. Cuppers Cup was small but dignified (much like the cup itself*), watched by a core elite of players — as well as a few interested laypeople — and undertaken in high spirits. The inaugural Eton Fives Cuppers was thus declared an enormous success. The tournament produced 28 high calibre games from all 11 pairs, who admirably represented 15 colleges throughout the course of the competition. All can now look forwards to next year’s tournament, in which the Eton Fives mixed players must seek to avenge their defeat…

*and indeed much like the organiser herself (editor's note)


Group stages

Group A

1. Rugby fives (Jacob Brubert & Ed Kay)

2. Peterhouse (Olivia Prankerd Smith & Will Anderson)

3. Homerton/Magdalene (Nic Walker & Maddie Skipsey)

4. Christ's (Miho Sugiyama & Dom Yates)

Group B

1. Clare (Anna Tindall & Jack Parham)

2. Robinson (James Pinder & George Barton)

3. St John's (Lizzie Tobin & Dan Scott)

Group C (a.k.a. Group of the 3-way tie)

1. Magdalene (Elana Osen & Sophie Kelly)

2. Corpus/Queens' (Issy Turney & Sudhir Balaji)

3. Selwyn/Caius (Ben Beltrami & Susanna Xu)

4. Trinity/Clare (Akanksha Bhat & James Proctor)

Intermediate round

Magdalene and Rugby Fives had a BYE

Clare beat Corpus/Queens' 12-7

Peterhouse beat Robinson 12-5

5th-6th playoff: Corpus/Queens' beat Robinson 12-5


Rugby fives beat Clare 12-7

Magdalene beat Peterhouse 14-13

3rd-4th playoff: potentially to follow…


Rugby fives beat Magdalene 12-9, 12-4


1. Homerton (Nic Walker)

2. Selwyn/Caius (Ben Beltrami & Susanna Xu)

3. Christ’s (Miho Sugiyama & Dom Yates)

4. Magdalene/Clare (Maddie Skipsey & James Proctor)

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