The annual encounter between Oxford University and the Penguins at Iffley Road on Wednesday night, proved to be another compelling contest between two sides committed to keeping the ball alive and playing an expansive game. Conditions were good with a firm pitch and the afternoon’s gale having passed over and the rain staying away, so the large vocal crowd who had come to see the universities last game of the 2015/16 season were rewarded with a highly entertaining match, which saw the home side victorious for a second successive year by 31 points to 14.
However, it was the visitors who started the more impressively and after just six minutes the Penguins opened the scoring with a very well-constructed catch and rive line-out routine that resulted in No 8 Simon Edwards being driven over to score near the touchline. Full-back Tom O’Toole kicked an excellent conversion from out wide. The next fifteen minutes saw both sides put together sustained passages of attacking play, but both defences held firm and the Penguins held onto their 7 nil lead. On the twenty minute mark, Oxford secured good ball from the set piece ad blindside winger Stephen Hyde injected himself in to the line to burst through the Penguins defence and score under the posts. George Collen playing at inside centre added the simple conversion. Following this score, Oxford looked to press home their advantage and with plentiful possession continued to attack the Penguins line, however a combination of dropped balls and misdirected passes meant they could not find the finish necessary to take the lead. Slightly against the run of play, the Penguins score their second and what turned out to be their final try, when fly-half Matt Keville put a grubber kick through the Oxford defensive line and full-back O’Toole showed great footballing skills to nudge the ball towards the posts and won the race to touch down, he duly added the straightforward conversion. With half-time approaching Oxford levelled the scores when No 8 and former Captain George Messum plunged over from five metres to score a well-deserved try, which Cullen converted to make the score at the interval 14 points all.
With both teams making a number of changes at the break, the first few minutes of the first half lacked the quality of the first, but it was Oxford who settled first and took the lead when young tearaway flanker Will Wilson scored in the corner, on this occasion Cullen was off target with the difficult conversion. Just five minutes later, the home side extended their lead when winger Hyde added his second of the night after some good build up play by the impressive Henry Lamont playing in the centres for the university. Cullen once again missed the conversion from the right-hand touchline. The match then became a bit niggly, with the referee awarding a number of penalties for infringements, particularly at the break down with both side infringing, and eventually he lost patience and the Penguins second row Rob Hall was shown a yellow card. Whilst Hall was in the sin bin, Oxford score their fifth and final try of the game from the constantly improving fly-half Basil Strang, who pounced on a loose ball and used all of his 6’ 5” frame to reach over and score a well-deserved try. This time Cullen was able to find the target with the conversion to extend the home sides advantage. This was the last score of the game with the last five minutes being something of a disappointing ends to a highly competitive and entertaining fixture.
Oxford’s George Messum and Henry Lamont were the joint recipients of the Active Education Man of the Match Award and Captain Fergus Taylor lifted the Alan Wright Cup on behalf of Oxford for the second year running, presented by the Penguins Hon. Secretary Mr Vincent Bramhall.
Team Lewis Anderson, Richard Halpin, Hugo Lu, Fergus Taylor, Andrew Grant, Jonathan Marsden, William Wilson, George Messum, Tom Kershaw, Basil Strang, Ed David, George Cullen, Henry Lamont, Stephen Hyde, Andrew Abraham
Subs William Thornton (on for Richard Halpin), Dean Irvine (on for Hugo Lu), Kieran Ball, Hugo McPherson, Sam Howard, Rob Balfour, Matt Geiger, Jacob Goss, John Aaron Henry
Scores T: Stephen Hyde (2), George Messum (1), William Wilson (1), Basil Strang (1) C: George Cullen (3)