On a cold, bleak Sunday afternoon, the Rugby Blues played the Russian national team. In some ways, it was a slightly implausible game. A group of students who are squeezing rugby in between studies took on a hardened group of professionals and came perilously close to victory. It was a performance of such heroism and tenacity that even stoic coach James Wade looked pleased, or at least slightly less grumpy, with the team’s magnificent efforts.
As the Russians ran out, your humble author, who plays for the 2nd XV at the rugby club and so knows the lads well, was more than a little concerned. Their two props had more meat on their thighs than a well-stocked butcher and the No. 8’s biceps were the size of a normal man’s torso. Their faces seemed to indicate that breaking one another’s noses formed a core part of the Russian training program.
Those fears appeared justified early. A try to the Russians in the first 5 minutes from their hooker Valery Tsnobiladze, converted by the full-back Igor Klyuchnikov indicated that the Blues might be in for a long afternoon. However, some astute kicking from fly-half Charlie Marr gave the Blues good field position and the Russians were under considerable pressure. Marr, despite striking the ball well, was unable to convert any of three penalties in the first 25 minutes, with one striking an upright.
The best was yet to come, a perfectly carried out back-line move, designed by backs coach and former Blue James Gaunt, opened the Russians up. Centre Cassian Braham-Law sliced through the line before passing to fresher winger Henry Lamont. Lamont, who boasts a sublime left-foot step, literally turned the Russian full-back inside-out before diving over near the posts to be engulfed by his joyous teammates. Marr added the relatively straight forward conversion.
The Russians hit back almost straight away with a catch and drive line-out from 5 metres out leading to Andrey Garbuzov diving over, Klyuchnikov was unsuccessful with his conversion attempt.
On the stroke of half-time Marr was successful with his fourth penalty attempt to take the Blues into the break 12-10 down with a palpable sense of optimism.
Unfortunately, the Russians scored a couple of quick tries soon after the break with their monstrous forward pack starting to exert some authority up front. The first was from flanker Andrey Temnov and the second from their left wing Denis Simplikevich, who looked every bit an international class player, Klyuchnikov was successful with one conversion. The Blues then hit back with another well-constructed try from full-back Jonathan Hudson, set up by the combined efforts of flanker Gus Jones and wing Lamont to close the gap to just 9 points. However, Simplikevich put the game out of reach of the gallant students when he crossed for his second try, again unconverted to make the final score 29 point to 15 in favour of the International side.
New hooker Nick Gardiner, whose ball-running and improbably large backside have proved a boon for the club, won the Oxford Man of the Match award with the flanker Temnov picking up the MOM for Russia.
Captain John Carter was magnificent and put in some thunderous hits on the Russian forwards. In terms of sheer physicality, Captain Carter, a former professional at Sale, was one of the few Blues players who could match their Russian counterparts for size. Prop Bob Baker, who played at Wasps last year, was another who continually drove the Russians back over the gain line. Second-rower Will Rowlands, unlucky to miss last year’s Varsity, was similarly immense. In the backs, Bramham-Law was superb in attack and defence, as was Heewon Cho on the wing.
Alas, there were a few low moments for OURFC over the weekend: scrum-half Sam Egerton’s blue head-band to keep his increasingly awful pony-tail in check; public address announcer, Tim Stevens, mangling various Russian names as they scored; and the Greyhounds (2nd XV) getting pumped 83-14 by a very good Welsh team.
All in all though, a triumph of a weekend for the Blues and one that bodes well for the Varsity Match on the 6th December at Twickenham.
Team Hamish Macdonald, Nick Gardner, Bob Baker, Jason Law, Will Rowlands, Gus Jones, James Harris, John Carter, Samson Egerton, Charlie Marr, Henry Lamont, Gav Turner, Cassian Bramham Law, Heewon Cho, Jonathan Hudson
Subs Jon Direen (on for Bob Baker), Michael Rickner (on for Jason Law), Fraser Heathcote (on for Gus Jones), Stuart Commins (on for Charlie Marr), Alastair Adams-Cairns (on for Jonathan Hudson), Lewis Anderson (on for Hamish Macdonald), Andrew Grounds, Will Boardman
Scores T: Jonathan Hudson (1), Henry Lamont (1) C: Charlie Marr (1) P: Charlie Marr (1)