Twickenham, here we come! Oxford and Cambridge Women set for rugby’s biggest stage

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The Varsity Match will break new ground at Twickenham Stadium on 10th December 2015, when the Oxford and Cambridge women kick-off a new double header. After 27 years of ploughing their own furrow, the women’s clubs have been invited to become part of the main Varsity Match event at the home of English Rugby – and the venue for the 2015 Rugby World Cup final. The first women’s rugby union Varsity Match was played at Iffley Road, Oxford, on 10th March 1988. The honour of scoring the first points fell to the Cambridge wing Barbara Skelly and Light Blues captain and No 8 Sophia Peggers scored the winning try in the final minute to make it an 8-6 victory. Many of the players had only picked up a rugby ball five months earlier and it was the first win record by a Cambridge University women’s rugby. It also avenged the defeat of the men’s team in the inaugural Varsity Match played at The Parks, Oxford on 10th February 1872. After that dream start the Cambridge women were forced to endure eight straight defeats. When the two teams met at Grange Road, Cambridge on Saturday 7th March 2015 it was the 28th meeting. Having seen their second team, the Panthers come out on top of the Tigers, 26-5, in the curtain raiser, Oxford ran into a confident and competent home side who scored four tries in a dominant first-half display to ensure they ended their run of four successive defeats. They added five more after the break to complete a 47-0 victory. The next time the two side’s meet will be at Twickenham in December in the 29th Women’s Varsity Match, while the men’s teams will do battle for the 134th later on the same day.

“This exciting announcement, coming the day before International Women’s Day, is a major step forward for women’s sport at both universities, and especially for the game of rugby union,” said the current Oxford women’s team captain Tess Braunerova. “A lot of players and administrators have worked tirelessly down the past three decades to establish women’s rugby as an option for students at the two Universities and the move to Twickenham is a tribute to all their efforts. Women’s rugby has not only taken hold at Oxford, but is a flourishing sport. The Varsity Match, as with the men, is the focal point of our season and by having the biggest, best and most famous stage in world rugby on which to play from now on can only be a catalyst for greater growth.”

Those sentiments are echoed by the Chairman of the Oxford University RFC, Ronnie Lamb, who has been working hard behind the scenes with his committee to bring about this historic decision which will allow the women’s teams from both Universities to play at the ground where the British Universities Women’s Cup final is played every year and the England Women’s team now play so regularly. “Everyone at the Club is delighted that this decision has finally been made and that we will have both the men’s and women’s Varsity Matches played together at Twickenham from this year on. It will undoubtedly help with the development of the women’s game at Oxford and Cambridge, but will also enhance the promotion of our big day in December,” said Lamb.

When the first match was played in 1988, the Oxford team played in jerseys borrowed from their male counterparts. Cambridge played in red and blue after getting a sponsorship deal with the clothing company, Kent and Curwen. Neither side were able to award Blues, although Cambridge did have one Blue on their side in Mark Hancock, the men’s captain, who helped Andy Mason coach the team. “Both Clubs are delighted to have been able to finally extend an invitation to the women to join us at Twickenham to take part in one of rugby’s greatest amateur fixtures. In recent years we have grown closer as institutions at both Oxford and Cambridge and this move has lead to a complete integration,” said Cambridge University RFC chairman, Nick Bennett. “With England currently the World champions in women’s rugby the timing couldn’t be better for us to combine our two great matches into one very special occasion at Twickenham. We will be celebrating a century of playing at the home of English rugby in 2021 and a year later will be the 150th anniversary of the first Varsity Match. We aim through our closer links with the women’s section of now fully integrated rugby clubs to actively promote the game to both sexes to drive participation. We also hope to be able to market the Varsity Match day to a broader audience to help create an even better occasion and atmosphere.” The pioneers of 1988 may not have received Blues, but they did earn high praise from The Times rugby correspondent of the time, David Hands: “They worked hard to organize it, they worked even harder during it and both sides and their coaches (male) deserve immense credit for an afternoon spilling over with enthusiasm.”

The current Cambridge Women’s RUFC President and tight head prop, Katie Holmes, believes the switch to Twickenham Stadium will be “massively important” in helping both Clubs further develop the game throughout the Colleges at the two Universities. “We have doubled the number of College teams from four to eight in the past few seasons and, with the joint boost of England winning the World Cup and the news of our Varsity Match moving to Twickenham with the men’s match, we need to prepare for further growth,” said Holmes. “This decision puts us on a par with the men’s match and, more importantly, forges stronger links between the two sections at both Clubs. This is a hugely historic step for the game or rugby at Oxford and Cambridge.”

THE FIRST WOMEN’S VARSITY MATCH

DATELINE: Thursday, 10th March 1988
VENUE: Iffley Road, Oxford
SCORELINE: Oxford 6 Cambridge 8

OXFORD UNIVERSITY: J Wilcox (Keble); L Murphy (University), S Willis (St Hilda’s), L Jordan (Pembroke), A Spash (St Hilda’s, N Robinson, St John’s); C Campbell-Smith (St John’s), H Bunting (St Hugh’s, Captain); L Simon (St Hilda’s), A Botting (St Edmund Hall), M Wells (St Peter’s), J Beardsmore (Merton). H Devine (St Hilda’s), T Kimber (Brasenose), J Wells (St John’s) M Jorgenson (Christ Church)
SCORERS: Try: A Spash; Con: C Campbell-Smith.

CAMBRIDGE UNIVERSITY: K Ward (St John’s); E Brooks (Homerton), H Rickards (Homerton),
A Bruton (Lucy Cavendish), B Skelly (Newnham); A Morgan (Homerton), L Carr (St Catharine’s);
K Harris (Homerton), R Maurice-Smith (Homerton), L Laver (Homerton), C Blackford (Newnham),
A Waitt (Homerton), C Slater (Newnham), L Whitfield (St Catherine’s), S Pegers (Robinson, Captain)
SCORERS: Tries: B Skelly, S Pegers.

Referee: A Midha (Swansea)

FOR FURTHER INFORMATION PLEASE CONTACT

Nykki Webber – Administrative Officer and Development Executive
Cambridge University Rugby Union FC
nykki.webber@curufc.com / 01223 354131

Tim Stevens – OURFC General Manager
tim.stevens@sports.ox.ac.uk / 01865 432000

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