Having bridged an unprecedented 18-month peace-time break between Varsity Matches at Leicester last weekend, plans are now being put in place for the 150th anniversary game between Oxford and Cambridge in 2022. The next fixture won’t be played in the traditional December window next season, but it has been decided to shift the matches to later in the season as we open a new chapter in the history of the Varsity Matches. This means the 2022 Varsity Matches, which will include the historic 150th anniversary of the first men’s match, will be played in April – with Saturday, 2 April the preferred date.
The decision to move the matches to a new date in the spring has come after a lot of discussion and evaluation, according to Tim Jones, chairman of Varsity Match Company Ltd. “The world of work has changed significantly since the big crowds of the 1990s, as has the world of rugby. We wanted to reposition the Varsity Matches at a time of year, and on a day of the week, which would allow it to welcome even more alumni and fans of top-class amateur rugby,” said Jones. “After in-depth research last summer, it became clear that a Saturday in the springtime was more favourable both to our core supporters and to the broader rugby communities. With the 2020/21 season Varsity Matches being played in July this year because of the pandemic, it also made sense to make that change for next season and we are just finalising the details with the team at Twickenham.” A return to the home of English rugby is the preferred option for 2022 and is subject to finalising contractual arrangments with the RFU. Twickenham would be the perfect setting for the celebration of one of world rugby’s greatest amateur matches.
Oxford and Cambridge first met there in 1921 and had played every game there since then until the switch to Welford Road last weekend. There was a noisy COVID-restricted crowd in Leicester to see Cambridge win the women’s match 10-5 to hang onto their title, while the Dark Blues won the men’s match 34-7 after Cambridge had taken the lead with one of the fastest tries in the history of the fixture by full-back Joe Gatus within 52 seconds of the start. The first men’s Varsity Match was played at The Parks, Oxford, on Saturday, 10 February, 1872, with the home side winning in a 20-a-side game. Oxford’s win at Leicester in the 2021 game cut the Cambridge lead in the men’s series to 64-61 with 14 games drawn.
“When we asked our key supporters, they were all in favour of a move to a Saturday in the springtime when we are likely to have more clement weather and fans will find it easier to attend,” added John Webster, chairman of Oxford University RFC. The co-chairs of Cambridge University RUFC, old Blues Jessica Tayenjam and Nick Koster, are also fully supportive of the change, which will come at the end of a season in which their club is celebrating its 150th birthday. “Most sports play their Varsity Match in the spring, so in a way we are aligning rugby to the rest of the Oxbridge sporting world. The new date will give younger and less experienced players more chance to develop throughout the season with the goal of playing at Twickenham,” said Tayenjam. Ex-Bristol and Bath professional, Koster, played in the 2017 and 2018 Varsity Matches, leading the Light Blues into the latter contest. “The Varsity Matches are historic rugby fixtures which are steeped in history and possess a fierce rivalry. We believe that the move to a Saturday in spring will give more people the chance to experience these great occasions and, in turn, help to make them even bigger and better,” said Koster.
For further details on the Varsity Matches, and for information on tickets when arrangements are complete, please visit www.thevarsitymatches.com