The Varsity Match will return to terrestrial TV screens after a gap of 19 years when next the 2015 fixture will be broadcast live from Twickenham Stadium on the BBC. The annual rugby union battle between the universities of Oxford and Cambridge at Twickenham Stadium was first broadcast by the BBC as far back as 1938, when the 63rd clash between the two University rivals became the first soccer or rugby match to be televised from start to finish.
Some 77 years on, the Women’s Varsity Match will make its bow at the home of England rugby on Thursday 10th December as the curtain raiser to the 134th Varsity Match. The Women’s Varsity Match, now in its 28th year, will be streamed live with highlights being shown on the BBC, while the Men’s match will be shown live on the BBC for the next five years.
The England full back, Hubert Freakes, led Oxford and William Chadwick, the oldest surviving British & Irish Lion, was captain of Cambridge in 1938 for a fixture won 8-6 by Cambridge. When the BBC engineers were setting up to send back pictures of the game they found there was not a suitable high building on which to put the transmitting aerial. With just 24 hours before transmission, they ordered a 110ft mast to be brought down from Daventry. This was erected in an allotment field next to the stadium in time for the start of the match, which was broadcast between 2.10pm and 4.00pm on London Television, Alexandra Palace – Vision: 45mc (6.67m). Sound: 41.5mc (7.23m). To view highlights footage from the 1938 Varsity Match, please follow the link below:
The teams in 2015 will be led by George Messum, whose Dark Blues side will be seeking a record breaking sixth successive victory, and Don Stevens, whose Light Blues team is expected to include Wales and British & Irish Lions centre Jamie Roberts.
“We all grew up watching the Varsity Match on television, although for the modern day players it has always been on Sky Sports. The return to the BBC will give the game a broader reach and help us to showcase what is still one of the most prestigious and competitive fixtures in the rugby calendar,” said Oxford skipper Messum. “The addition of the Women’s match to the big day out at Twickenham is a move we all applaud and having watched last season’s game first-hand at Grange Road I know that will be a real spectacle.”
Ironically, Cambridge was in the midst of one of their purple patches when the game was last shown on the BBC. Between 1994-1998 the Light Blues won five games in a row for the third time in the series. The challenge for Stevens and his team next term will be to stem the tide of Oxford triumphs, which culminated in a record 43 points to 6 victory last season that brought them to within three victories of Cambridge’s 61 in the 133 games played since 1872.
“The game being live on BBC will make the match more broadly available to rugby fans throughout the UK and across the world and add to the lustre of the fixture. We have a bit of ground to make up on our arch rivals and we intend to work as hard as is required to stop Oxford making it six in a row,” said Stevens.