On the 10th February 1872 the very first Varsity Match was played in the University Parks, Oxford, with the Dark Blues claiming the victory by 1 goal to nil and has since become one of the world’s longest running sporting fixtures. It represents the pinnacle of amateur and student rugby where two of the most prestigious universities in the world compete for the title of Varsity holders. In that first match Oxford wore dark blue jerseys (the same as today, though at some stages they have worn white), and Cambridge played in pink, changing to their light blue and white in 1876 – and so the Dark and Light Blues were born.
Ever since 1872, The Varsity Match has been played annually and is renowned as one of the most pulsating fixtures on the rugby calendar. The following year (February 1873) the return match was played in Cambridge on ‘Parkers Piece’, but in 1877 it was decided to move the match to a neutral ground and the Kennington Oval – scene of England’s first home international fixture the previous year – was chosen. Up until 1875, the Universities fielded 20 players a-side, as was the norm for Rugby football in those early years. In that year, the Universities and their respective Blues took the initiative and changed to 15 a-side. This caught on quickly and was adopted as the international standard in 1877.
During the 1880s The Varsity Match was played at a variety of venues including the Rectory Field, the home of Blackheath F.C. In December 1887, the match was moved to Queen’s Club in Fulham. The venue had only just opened and was considered to be the best sporting club in Europe. Queen’s Club continued to be the venue until the outbreak of the First World War, when all rugby matches, including The Varsity Match, were suspended. The Decembers of 1919 and 1920 again saw The Varsity Match played at Queen’s Club. However, by this time, it was becoming too small to accommodate the growing crowds, so, consequently, in December 1921, The Varsity Match was moved to the Rugby Football Union’s ground at Twickenham where, except for the war years (when the match was played twice each year at Oxford and Cambridge respectively) it has been played ever since.
To date there have been 138 matches played, with Cambridge leading Oxford 64 – 60 and 14 matches drawn.
In March 1988 the inaugural Women’s Varsity Match took place at Iffley Road and to date there been 31 matches played, with Oxford leading Cambridge 19 – 14 and no draws.