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The Varsity Match
The Varsity Match is an annual rugby union fixture played between the universities of Oxford and Cambridge in England. The event began in 1872 with the first men's match, with interruptions only for the two World Wars. Since 1921, the game has been played at Twickenham Stadium, London. It is normally played in early December.
The women's rugby Varsity Match was first played in 1988 and has taken place at Twickenham on the same day as the men's game since 2015. Cambridge won the 2019 match, repeating their 8-5 victory of 2018.
The history of The Varsity Match extends back to early 1872. It was a year after the first ever rugby international (Scotland v England). Both Cambridge and Oxford sent officials to meet and arrange a match between each other. At The Parks, Oxford, they played a 20 a-side version of the game (as opposed to today's 15 a-side games; the teams would be set to 15 a-side in 1875). Oxford won the inaugural meeting. In that first match, Oxford wore dark blue jerseys (the same as today, though at some stages they wore white), however, Cambridge played in pink, changing to their blue and white in 1876.
The second Varsity Match in 1873 was played at Parker's Piece in Cambridge, but since then it has always been played in London. The Oval in Kennington staged seven matches, three games were played at Richardson's Field in Blackheath and another Blackheath venue, Rectory Field, hosted four games before Queen's Club in Kensington became the regular venue from 1887 to 1920. The 1878 and 1879 matches were postponed due to fog. In 1919, the players were apparently invisible due to fog. In 1921 the match was moved to the Rugby Football Union's famous home ground, Twickenham. The official Varsity Match was not played during wartime although a series of matches were played during the Second World War, resulting in nine wins for Cambridge, two wins for Oxford and one draw. All these games were played either at Oxford or Cambridge. The hundredth match in 1981 was played at Twickenham with a three to four-inch layer of snow covering the pitch; it had snowed overnight and the snow could not be removed in time for the game. In 2013 Oxford's Sam Egerton was sent off for an off-the-ball incident and became the first player to be dismissed in the history of the match. Oxford's 43-6 win in 2014 was the biggest victory in the history of the fixture and gave them a fifth successive victory for the first time ever. Cambridge have recorded five wins in a row on three separate occasions, 1972-76, 1980-84 and 1994-98. Oxford's win in the 2015 match was their sixth successive win in the fixture, a record for either side.
There was not a referee until the 1881 match, when Mr H. H. Taylor officiated. Prior to this each game had two umpires, one from each university. The record number of appearances is held by former RFU secretary Rowland Hill along with Welshman Gwynne Walters both with seven games. Other notable International referees who have controlled this fixture are Englishmen G. H. Harnett (6) Cyril Gadney (6) and H.L. Ashmore (5), along with Welshmen Albert Freethy (6) and Clive Norling (5). Up until the start of the professional era, one of the unique aspects of the Varsity game was that the referee was not appointed by the RFU but agreed upon and invited by the two captains. This tradition ended after the 1997-98 season, along with that of the previous year's captains returning to act as touch judges (a continuation of the original custom of each university appointing an umpire), when the RFU Referees' committee decided that touch judges could only be qualified officials and that the RFU should appoint the referee. Now there is also a television match official.
1987 Rugby World Cup winning All Blacks captain David Kirk played in the 1987 and 1988 Varsity Matches after ending his international career to take up a Rhodes Scholarship at Oxford. Brian Smith represented Australia in the 1987 Rugby World Cup and played in the 1988 and captained 1989 Varsity match for Oxford, before continuing his international career with Ireland 1990-1991.
Former WallabyJoe Roff played in the 2006 and 2007 Varsity Matches for Oxford after retiring from professional rugby, captaining the side in 2007. Five former or current internationals played in the 2008 Varsity Match. The most notable were retired All Black hookerAnton Oliver for Oxford and former Wallaby lockDan Vickerman for Cambridge, with Oxford also fielding current CanadaflankerStan McKeen and Cambridge fielding former All Black centre Mark Ranby and former USAscrum-half Doug Rowe. Vickerman captained Cambridge in the 2009 Match, in which McKeen and Rowe also played.