The Blues put visitors Newport Gwent Dragons through an almighty battle at Oxford’s historic Iffley Road ground, but the Dragons emerged from a damp and foggy evening with a thrilling 20-18 victory. Oxford more than matched their fully professional Welsh counterparts, keeping the visitors scoreless in the second half, and walked away with both pride and promise as they build towards the Varsity match in under 10 weeks time. The return of stand in Blues captain Jonathan Hudson from a harsh first half trip to the sin bin spurred on his charges as they looked to reduce a significant 20-6 halftime deficit. The ensuing phases saw Oxford power their way towards the try line with renewed vigor as the Dragons were forced into increasingly desperate rearguard action. Twice off a Newport put in, the Blues wheeled the scrum, however the payoff of a try remained stubbornly out of reach. Finally, after repeated pick and drives from the forwards Sam Egerton broke close to a ruck and beat several defenders to dot down. The difficult conversion attempt was pulled left through heavy fog but the Blues were on the front foot and closing with the score 20-11 in Newport’s favour. The Oxford comeback gathered pace and but for a classy interception close to the try line, the Blues might have been closer still. The Blues had upped their game and were starting to take control of the break down and scrum. The Blues, wearing white in deference to their blue shirted Welsh guests, ploughed on towards to line. Crashing into tackles in an almost invisible corner of the pitch near the east stand, the Blues emerged from the fog with ball in hand forcing Dragon replacement prop, Joe Mills, into a rash offside tackle that rightly bought him 10 minutes in the sin bin. With the advantage in number, Oxford pressed again and soon were able to celebrate a try after replacement hooker James Wisson forced his way over from 5 metres out. The conversion arrived sweetly off of the boot of Jonathan Hudson to bring the Blues to within two at 20-18. With just eight minutes remaining, the Blues twice more targeted the far and foggy corner of the famous Iffley road ground, but the try wasn’t to be found. As the temperature dropped, the standard of the ball handling dropped in kind, with the Blues twice wasteful when a potentially match winning try beckoned. The Blues were now looking to spread the ball wide and not keep the ball tight and drive with the forwards, a tactic that had resulted in both of their tries. Though pinned in their own half, the Dragons kept their cool, doing well to see out the game and not to give away a penalty that could have won Oxford the game. Captain Jonathan Hudson said, “I’m proud of the way the boys played tonight up against a tough Dragons side. We more than held our own and dominated the second half, which bodes well for the challenging, season ahead. ”After an initial period characterised by nerves and over excitement, both teams settled down into their rugby, with the lion’s share of action occurring in the Blues’s half. The Dragon’s fly half, Steffan Jones, opened the scoring with his boot in the opening 3 minutes of the match. With Jones starting to control the game and his forwards showing strength and control up front, it was only a matter of time before the Welsh side scored their first try. This came in the ninth minute when No 8 James Benjamin, crashed over from a driving maul. The ensuing conversion was missed. The Blues second row, Will Rowlands, made a rare break through Newport’s defense to gain vital distance when the Dragons were penalised for hands in the ruck. Jonathan Hudson, captain of the side as John Carter continues to recover from injury, duly slotted home the easy 3 points on offer to close the gap to just five points, at 8-3 in the Welsh’s side favour. Were it not for an untimely knock on by the Blues, it may well have been closer still. As the Dragons made steady progress, and the Blues increasingly relying on clearing kicks, Newport’s well drilled side began to turn the screw. Kicking for the corners and turning down penalties, the Dragons pack once again powered their way towards the try line and was rewarded when Benjamin touched down for his, and his team’s, second try. Jones added the conversion to take the score to a generous 15-3. The Dragon’s were looking quietly impressive, with the forward pack setting a good platform for a skillful and strong back line. However, once again the Blues hit back immediately after the restart where a commitment to put the hard work in at the breakdown was rewarded with a penalty, Hudson made no mistake. 15-6. As the first half wore on the superior fitness of the professionals began to tell as the Dragons broke through the line twice in quick succession. As the pressure ratcheted up notches further, the Blues captain Jonathan Hudson was penalised for coming in from the side and was sent to the sin bin. Down to 14 men, the Blues stood firm for surge after surge as the Dragons looked to press home their advantage, both in numbers and on the scoreboard. Although, heroic at times, it wasn’t to last as Newport’s Lewis Roblin broke the shackles of a would be defender to touch down in the fog. A second conversion attempt by Jones sailed agonisingly wide right to leave the scoreboard on 20-6 in the Dragon’s favour. The halftime score line was a fair reflection of the play; Dragon’s steadily dominant, with the Blues taking the points available on rare visits into the Dragon’s half.
Team Dean Irvine, Nick Gardner, Stuart Greeff, Will Rowlands, Graeme McGilchrist, Alexander Macdonald, Fraser Heathcote, Samson Egerton, Jonathan Hudson, Matt Janney, Marcus-Alexander Neil, Oscar Vallance, Sebastian Williams, Edward Doe
Subs James Wisson (on for Nick Gardner), Lewis Anderson (on for Dean Irvine), Steven Patch (on for Graeme McGilchrist), Matthew Shorthose (on for Samson Egerton), Jacob Taylor (on for Edward Doe), Gav Turner (on for Sebastian Williams), Oakley Cox (on for Marcus-Alexander Neil)
Scores T: James Wisson (1), Samson Egerton (1) C: Jonathan Hudson (1) P: Jonathan Hudson (2)