Last Wednesday afternoon, Iffley Road sports ground once again played host to OURFC’s historic Major Stanley’s match, this year particularly significant as it marks 100 years since the match was first played. Named after Major R.V. Stanley, an Oxford local who became the RFU representative for the team between 1907-23, the fixture has been played annually since 1919. Each year an invitational side is chosen or formed to play the Blues in anticipation of their Varsity fixture in December; the Stanley’s team has had big names from world rugby among its ranks in previous years, and Anthony Thomas Voyce, a flanker who went onto play for England twenty-nine times, played in the inaugural match.
For both sides, this match comes as a crucial indicator of form with now less than a month to go before they take on Cambridge at Twickenham stadium, and for the women’s side the match was a momentous occasion, as they played their first-ever Major Stanley’s fixture since its formation in 1919.
This year, the teams which the Blues would take on were made up entirely of OURFC alumni; the men’s team was co-ordinated by Steve Hill and included players such as Luke Sheriff and Dylan Munro, who now both play for the Harlequins, Hugo McPherson, of Haywards Heath RFC, and Lewis Anderson, of Littlemore RFC. The women’s team, co-ordinated by former OUWRFC president Ellaine Gelman featured players including Sophie Behan, of Rosslyn Park RFC, London Irish’s Georgia Ling, and Catherine Wilcock, who currently plays for Preston Grasshoppers RFC.
After losing their BUCS fixture against Cambridge the previous week, the women’s blues had suffered a hit to morale, however this match gave them a chance to bounce back, and captain Hazel Ellender led the team to a storming 14-10 victory over the strong invitational side.
The first half saw plenty of action, with both sides evenly matched from the outset. Centre Zoe Nunn managed to score a try for the Blues, which was swiftly converted to seven points by Christ Church’s Pat Metcalfe-Jones. Wing Clodagh Holmes, from Univ, followed up with a second try for Oxford, and Metcalfe-Jones ably kicked the ball between the posts to cement the Blues’ lead. The opposition side also claimed two tries in the first half, however with two failed conversion kicks, leaving the Blues ahead at the half-time whistle.
The second half, while devoid of scoring from either team, was a test of the Blues’ defence, and a good opportunity to practice against a strong attacking side. Ultimately though, the score remained the same, and the Blues were victorious, with the conversion kicks proving to be the decider of the day in favour of a strong Oxford team. Captain Hazel Ellender suffered an injury to her knee during the match, and is set to have a scan to assess the damage, but will hopefully be fit to play again for the Varsity fixture on the 12th December.
The men’s fixture, which kicked off at 3.45pm, was similarly close-fought, and provided an excellent spectacle for the assembled crowd, with a final score-line of 40-40. For the opening twenty minutes of the fixture, the Oxford side struggled to retain the ball, and Hugo McPherson followed by Jack Reeves scored tries for the Stanley’s side in the opening fifteen minutes, with a conversion from Dan Lewis meaning that the Blues were 12-0 down.
However, spurred on by the poor start, Oxford soon responded with a try from Tom Stileman to get them off the mark. This was followed by another soon after from scrum half Jack Dalton, and with a conversion from Tom
Humberstone, the score was level again. Having found their feet, the Blues continued to dominate the latter part of the first half, with another two tries, coming from Sam Ridgeway and Ryan Jones, with two conversions from Humberstone meaning the first half ended with a score of 26-12. The second half opened with a similar intensity, and tries came swiftly from both sides: Major Stanley’s Fred Myatt managed to close the gap a little before another try from Oxford’s Ridgeway put the home side ahead again. However, the invitational side started to put their foot down as the match went on, and a further three tries put them 40-33 ahead as the match came into its closing minutes. With tensions high, a throw-in was taken near Oxford’s scoring end, the ball was passed back to hooker Josh Navarajasegaran, of Merton, and he was able to take it over the line. Oriel’s Louis Jackson successfully converted it to bring the score level to 40-apiece as the final whistle blew, bringing an exciting day of matches to a close and upping the excitement as the teams get one step closer to Twickenham.