The Men’s Blues final home game of the 2016/17 season, saw them host the Penguin International RFC at Iffley Road on Wednesday night, with the weather being kind allowing both sides to play in the ‘Penguin’ way with ball in hand where possible. The evening saw the return to Iffley Road of a number of familiar faces, former OURFC Director of Rugby Steve Hill was in charge of the strong Penguins squad, which included Blues fly-half Ross Swanson (2008/09), whilst the man with the whistle was Gloucester record appearance holder Nick Wood, who gained a ‘Red’ when he appeared for Oxford in three consecutive U21 Varsity Matches 2001/02/03.
It was the visitors who came out of the blocks the fastest and were soon rewarded for their attacking policy, when the aforementioned Swanson ghosted through a narrow gap to slide over out wide after just 6 minutes, full-back Rhodri Adamson was off target with the conversion. The Penguins continued to press for a second score for the remainder of the first quarter, before the home side found their feet. The second quarter was a reverse of the first, as Oxford dominated territory and possession, the scrum being a particular area of strength which eventually lead to Wood yellow carding Jake Byrne the Penguins loose-head prop. The Blues took the lead on 21 minutes, when 2016 Captain and leader on the night, Fergus Taylor forced his way over from short range, No 8 Will Wilson, who enjoyed a good evening off the tee added the conversion from out wide. With half-time approaching with just two points between the teams, Oxford extended their lead when Wilson was the beneficiary of a push-over try from five metres out, he duly added the extras. On the stroke of half-time, the Blues gifted the Penguins seven points, when a loose pass in midfield was pounced upon by left wing James Murdoch to race in unopposed, Adamson this time converting from under the posts to make the score at the interval 14 points to 12 in the home sides favour.
The second half was almost a mirror image of the first with the home side dominating the third quarter, then the visitors hitting back in the fourth, before a frantic finish with the final result going down to the wire. Blues flanker James Beaufils who put in another strong performance in both attack and defence, caught the Penguins defence napping when he took a quick tap penalty and raced in untouched to dot down under the posts, Wilson was once again on target to extend Oxford’s lead to nine points. Then with just ten minutes left, when it looked as though the Blues had done enough to close out a victory, the Penguins had other ideas and suddenly burst into a flurry of attacking action to score two late tries. First replacement wing Ali Taylor was put into space by his inside backs and finished off in fine style in the corner, replacement fly-half Howard Graham missed the difficult conversion. Soon after, flanker Nathan Thomas burst through a dog-legged Oxford defence to stride in under the posts, this time Graham was on target to take the Penguins out to a three point lead. The final minutes of the game, saw the Blues hammer away at the Penguins line, spurning simple penalty opportunities to draw the game, and on several occasions it appeared they had breached the defensive line, only for a Penguin defender to appear at the last minute to repel the attack. With the stadium clock showing 84 minutes, Wood eventually blew the final whistle with the Penguins victorious by just three points to reclaim the Alan Wright Cup for the first time since 2014.
Oxford’s Man of the Match was No 8 Will Wilson, who not only enjoyed a fine night with the boot, but was dynamic in both attack and defence and was the grateful recipient of a bottle of Moet thanks to Match Sponsors Active Education.
Team Lewis Anderson, John Aaron Henry, Kieran Ball, Fergus Taylor, Jonathan Marsden, Graeme MacGilchrist, James Beaufils, William Wilson, Sebastian Haddock, Tom Dyer, Ed David, Alex Hogg, Matt Geiger, Tom Stileman, Daniel Barley
Subs William Thornton (on for John Aaron Henry), James Scaife (on for Lewis Anderson), Ben Parker (on for Kieran Ball), Hugo McPherson (on for Jonathan Marsden), Ollie Adams (on for Graeme MacGilchrist), Jacob Goss (on for James Beaufils), Angus Livingstone (on for Ed David), Tom Humberstone
ScoresT: James Beaufils (1), Fergus Taylor (1), William Wilson (1) C: William Wilson (3)