On a perfect sunny November afternoon at Iffley Road the Blues came close to claiming an international scalp for the fist time in many years and were only denied by a strong second half comeback from the Russian Bears. The Blues first half play was as good a performance seen at Iffley Road for a couple of seasons and the 24 points to 7 half-time score was a true reflection of the way the first half played out. With Captain John Carter able to select a very strong side with only a couple of senior players unavailable with sickness and injury, expectation was high of producing a strong performance and the very large crowd were certainly not disappointed by the first 40 minutes produced by the Blues. The first 15 minutes saw the students dominate territory and possession and come close to scoring on a few occasions only thwarted by stern Russian defence. However, on 16 minutes the Russian defence was breached when centre Gavin Turner, who enjoyed a fine match, broke through a tackle and showed good pace and strength to beat the cover and reach out to score out wide, Fly-half Jonathan Hudson added the difficult conversion. Just four minutes later Oxford extended their lead to 10 points when centre Matt Janney was successful with a penalty from fully 40 metres out. The Russians then hit back almost immediately with a try from their second row Andrey Garbuzov converted by fly-half Yury Kushnarev. The remainder of the half then belonged to Oxford as they continued to play an ‘all court’ game with forwards and backs combining well to play exciting yet controlled, accurate rugby which lead to two further scores. The first was a classic piece of play with forwards and backs combining which resulted in wing Henry Lamont finishing in style, to add to his try against the same opposition last year. Jacob Taylor added the extras having replaced Jonathan Hudson at fly-half. On the stroke of half-time second row Will Rowlands added to his growing reputation when he scored from close range following a series of drives from the forwards, Taylor was again successful with the conversion to increase the Oxford lead to 17 points.
The Russians made a number of changes at the interval and with the temperature starting to drop as the sun went down, they certainly felt more at home as they started to eat in to the Oxford lead. Just two minutes into the second period, wing Denis Simplikevich burst his way over to score i the corner for an unconverted try – this after scoring two tries in last year’s fixture. With Oxford having to make changes as the power of the international visitors came to the fore, the Russians scored another converted try and were then awarded a penalty try for a scrum offence which put them 2 points in front with 5 minutes still to play. Oxford had a chance to snatch a deserved victory but Matt Janney’s 46 metre penalty fell agonizingly short and then to rub salt in the wounds, the Russians scored a try in the corner with the very last play of the match to put a flattering touch to the final score of 31 points to 24.
The Blues now have ten days to reflect on their performance and nurse their battered bodies back to fitness, before the traditional Major Stanley’s XV fixture on Wednesday 20th November, kick off at 3.30pm.
Team Lewis Anderson, Nick Gardner, Ian Williams, Tom Reeson-Price, Will Rowlands, Alexander Macdonald, James Harris, John Carter, Samson Egerton, Jonathan Hudson, Henry Lamont, Gav Turner, Matt Janney, Sebastian Williams, Edward Doe
Subs Fraser Heathcote, James Wisson, Hamish Macdonald, Michael Rickner, Steven Patch, Graeme MacGilchrist, Matthew Shorthose, Marcus-Alexander Neil, Jacob Taylor
Scores T: Will Rowlands (1), Henry Lamont (1), Gavin Turner (1) C: Jacob Taylor (2), Jonathan Hudson (1) P: Matt Janney (1)