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Oxford’s Rugby League Glory

This Saturday saw the Women’s Rugby League Blues team defeat Cambridge in their second Varsity since reinstating the club in 2022. The Varsity season had been a mixed bag for the Oxford University Rugby League Club so far, as the Men’s 2s team pulled off an impressive and convincing victory yet the 1s narrowly lost 14-12. Not only did the women’s team have the title-calling pressure on this match, but they also wanted to continue their run of fantastic form after winning the BUCS Club of the Year award for last year’s season; pressure was certainly on.

The day began with the Old Boy’s match, bringing fans down to Iffley Road stadium in their masses, assuring that the support base was already there for the women’s game. It was a warm sunny day with food and drinks flowing freely, and Oxford had a considerable home team advantage, setting a comfortable scene for the match to come.

Straight from the kick-off Oxford were strong, aggressive, and clearly the better team. This strong start was quickly awarded with Tolu Atilola scoring the first try in two minutes, promising of her performance to come. Oxford dominated, playing silky passes across the pitch, putting in powerful tackles and clearly knew rugby league inside out, as they were careful and tactical in the six-tackle movements. Cambridge got a try back, but Rachel Hewitt began her hattrick game soon after, breaking through the back line with impressive strength. She followed this with another try, catching a clever silky kick forward by Iona Ffrench-Adam. When the whistle blew the score was 14-4, and Oxford went into the changing room confident in their performance.

The second half only saw Oxford dominate even further, working as a dynamic unit to delay the Cambridge attack and push the play backwards, and they were a force to be reckoned with when charging forward. Hewitt continued her incredible performance in the 55th minute, pushing over the line once more, and Iona Ffrench-Adam put her conversion through the posts. This half saw more injuries for both sides, calling the medics on a fair few times, and even saw the Oxford medic almost get involved in a tackle trying when treating a player. Although Cambridge had force and some great performances by Bryher Smith and Nancy Twigg, the number 9 and 1 respectively, they simply couldn’t break down the Oxford cohesive defence, even when a few metres out. Atilola finished Cambridge off in a moment of perfect symmetry to bring the final score to 24-4 in Oxford’s favour.

It was overall a very successful day on the pitch for the girls, and a generally enjoyable game to watch. The communal atmosphere the Rugby League club encouraged in the stands and all over the pitch was fantastic to watch. The president was on hand to run water bottles onto the pitch and lead chants from the stands. The roar from the crowd after every try was nearly deafening, and every onlooker was clearly invested in the game. It was almost emotional to see the girls being clapped out of the changing rooms through a manmade tunnel in both halves, as was the celebration at the end, clearly a whole club affair as they piled on top of one another. A brilliant game of rugby made for a successful and enjoyable day, and OURL set an example for all Oxford clubs on how to have a successful Varsity fixture.

Image Credit: Jessica Cullen

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