Varsity Match 2016: High Class Blues Fives


Men’s Blues Match. Rodney Knight reports:

After a fine display of fives from the Oxford and Cambridge Blues teams in this much anticipated encounter, it was the Light Blues who proved convincingly on the day to be both better prepared for the contest and to have real strength in depth this year in their men’s squad.

The Blues teams included Under 21 and Universities champions on both sides as well as higher representation than ever (7) of ex-Etonians. Both first pairs were fresh from success in national competitions and the first game was very keenly fought with James Cobb and James Piggott for Oxford showing the fine skills in attack and retrieval for which they have become known since winning the schools’ championships in 2014. But those who have watched the progress over the last two years of Cambridge captain Riki Houlden and Tony Barker were unsurprised to see them responding in kind and just stealing a march to win the first game 14-12.

The very fine and evenly matched game continued in the second game with even more determination from the Dark Blues to redress the balance. At 8-2 in the second they seemed to have achieved this, but Cambridge refused to let them finish and their resistance produced the first unforced errors from their opponents. This precipitated a crisis of self-confidence in the Oxford pair which resulted in them losing the second 12-8 and going down badly in the third 12-1. Better preparation as a pair and fierce consistency from both Houlden and Barker were decisive factors in an unexpected but entirely convincing 3-0 win.

Another excellent contest was taking place in the second Blues court, where three Etonians were joined by Salopian Oxford captain Jack Flowers. Again a very hard fight in the first set produced a 12-10 win for Cambridge and a dip in the Oxford performance allowed Jack Parham and Jamie Abbott to secure the second 12-8. A recovery by Flowers and Ollie Sale in the third brought them to 11 all and the match still looked finely balanced. It was the Cambridge pair who landed the decisive blow though, and they finished the rubber 14-13 to clinch the match for the Light Blues.

In the third pair, what looked to be an even contest produced the same 3-0 result, but this time in favour of Oxford, as Tom Kirkby and Sam Oppenheimer showed their greater consistency to subdue a capable Alistair Stewart and Sudhir Balaji.

Men’s Second team match. Mike Hughes reports:

On a typically windy, rainy, cold March day the Penguins v Peppers match got under way with some cagey (dare I say, rusty/nervy looking) fives. This year there were individuals playing who last year had been in the first three courts and so perhaps felt they had something to prove to their respective captains. However, for the Oxford team this was to be a particularly tough day at the office.

The third pair, which had looked on paper as though it would be a pretty close run affair, ended up a reasonably straightforward win for Cambridge. The long and the short of this one was that he who hit the buttress most often would come out on top. There was plenty of heart and effort from both pairs, but in the end, the Cambridge pair just knew a little bit too much for their opponents and they ran out comfortable winners. First blood to Cambridge.

At first pair, the Cambridge men – Westminsters Ben Merrett and Will Reid – looked like they had a pretty clear game plan and played the steadier fives all afternoon. Oxford’s Will Ponsonby and Felix von Stumm, despite having played together on occasion at school, looked like they needed more court time in the run up to this match, and while they admirably kept going for their shots, they lacked accuracy, and all too often rallies ended with unforced errors. Having lost the first game they never got started in the second and it was not until half way through the third (and ultimately, final) game that they started to find some line and length. By then however, it was too late, the Cambridge pair were well into their stride and started to play some effective attacking strokes themselves, eventually taking the game 12-8, and securing an overall Cambridge victory.

The second pair was an interesting mix of youth and experience. Dan Byam Shaw, back for his fourth appearance (the first three as the backbone of the first six) and Stephen Thatcher were pitched against newcomers to the Varsity scene – Nathan Turnbull and Anthony Kane – who looked a very accomplished pair, understood each other’s game and knew what to leave, when to leave it and for whom! This was the best quality match of the three and, having lost the first game, Oxford fought hard to stay in, and eventually pip the Light Blues to the second. At this stage with Byam Shaw’s huge cut beginning to take effect, it may have seemed like the tide was turning, but both Kane and Turnbull dug deep during the third and were prepared to wait for the opposition to make mistakes. Inevitably this is what happened and so the third game went to Cambridge. However, Oxford would still not lie down and die and the fourth game was a veritable humdinger, which either pair might have won. Unfortunately for Oxford it was Cambridge who finally came through 14-12, thereby wrapping up a convincing 3-0 win for the Penguins.

Ladies Matches. Gareth Hoskins reports:

The six pair ladies Varsity match is now well established and after a period of one-sided matches, the last two years have seen much closer contests. In 2015, Cambridge won the first team match 2-1 and Oxford the second team match by the same scoreline; this year the roles were reversed.

Both sides had started the season with a small playing base after losing a lot of players from the previous year. It is a testament to the way both clubs are now run, the enthusiasm of the captains and secretaries and the dedication and commitment of the players that the standard across all six pairs was so high. Both teams contained a handful of players who had played at school (although many on a casual basis or for only a year or two); the majority of players had learned their Fives at Oxford or Cambridge and many were in their first year of playing.

One of the best examples of someone starting to play Fives at Oxbridge and reaching a very high level is Izzy Watts, playing in her seventh and final Varsity match for Oxford – the last five of them at first pair – who this year teamed up with Oxford captain Rosie Parr to win convincingly against Hannah Rapley and Sophie Kelly for the loss of only six points.

Cambridge played a wild card at second pair in the form of 2010 captain Elli Hullis, now in the fourth year of her veterinary degree (her second Cambridge degree) and back from her knee problems and in the team for the first time since 2011. Despite showing some inevitable signs of rustiness having only returned to the game in recent weeks, Elli showed her class at second pair and was the dominant player on court in a fine match, as she and Salopian Esmé O’Keeffe edged past Ellie Oppenheim and Fiona Tay of Oxford, despite a gutsy performance from the Oxford pair. Fiona was hugely impressive, having only taken the game up this year and took the prize for commitment, driving up from and then back to Bournemouth, where she had morning and evening matches representing Oxford in the national student volleyball championships. Ellie also showed some of the classy touches you would expect from someone who learned their Fives as a youngster at Highgate and she will no doubt be keen to renew battle with the Cambridge pair next year.

The first team match always looked likely to be decided at third pair and so it proved: all four players in the third court have learned their Fives at university and given that lack of experience the standard was remarkable. Cambridge pair Susannah Xu and Rhonda Shiels showed just how much progress they have made over the last few months particularly, but ultimately they weren’t able to compete with Oxford’s Alice Stables and Martha Samano, who got the reward they deserved for their dedication to Oxford Fives this year as the heartbeat of the team with a 3-0 win to clinch the first team honours for Oxford.

The standard of the ladies second team match continues to rise each year, and the Cambridge fourth pair of Annie Cave and Pippa Ball can consider themselves unlucky to have missed out on first team places. They showed great skill and potential in winning in three games against the gutsy Oxford pair of Beth Thorne and Anna Ying.

At fifth pair, Rugby Fives player Lottie Simpson and her partner Annie Calderbank produced a terrific performance to frustrate Oxford’s Frankie Crossley and Emma Dyer, who played some good Fives and were competitive in the rallies but were unable to find a way to return the Cambridge pair’s fierce cutting with any consistency.

The final pair really did show the progress being made in this fixture, with both sixth pairs playing with lots of determination and no little skill. Oxford’s Elena Zanchini and Amelia Coen dominated the first two games against Cambridge’s Nicole Lim and Maria Pieri but the Cambridge pair got themselves back in it at 11-7 up in the third. The Oxford pair then found a succession of convincing game ball cuts and with some fine cut returning fought back to 11-11 and then 13-11 ahead before Amelia finished the match with a stunning left-handed winner from deep in the back left corner that took her opponents – and her judging by her reaction – by surprise.

A new innovation this year was a series of informal mixed pairs matches between the two sides; once the Oxford men had overcome their initial disappointment at losing their match and had got their playing kit and gloves back on, this proved to be an excellent addition to the day, providing a friendly antidote to the competitive main matches and leading nicely into the evening’s celebrations.

This was another year when the Oxbridge clubs enjoyed the sponsorship of Pol Roger: as always their generous Champagne reception was much enjoyed in the Masters’ Common Room at Eton by all players on the day together with invited guests from the EFA, Eton College and the clubs.

Chairman of the EFA Richard Black presented Pol Roger champagne to each winning pair and Mark Williams, now as a visitor to the College, thanked the sponsors and the masters in charge at Eton for facilitating a memorable evening for all present.

At an excellent dinner following the reception, the club captains offered tributes to Gareth Hoskins, EFA Secretary, for his prodigious support for university fives, to Mike Hughes as organiser of the evening and their coaches and presidents.

Blues Match: Cambridge won 2-1

T.Barker (St.Olave’s & Pembroke) & R.Houlden (Westminster & Christ’s) beat J.Cobb (Eton & St.John’s) & J.Piggot (Eton & St.Catherine’s) 3-0 (14-12, 12-8, 12-1)

J.Parham (Eton & Clare) & J.Abbott (Eton & Magdalene) beat J.Flowers (Shrewsbury & Brasenose) & O.Sale (Eton & Wadham) 3-0 (12-10, 12-8, 14-13)

A.Stewart (Westminster & Jesus) & S.Balaji (St.Olave’s & Queens’) lost to T.Kirkby (Eton & St.Anne’s) & S.Oppenheimer (Eton & Christ Church) 0-3 (6-12, 7-12, 9-12)

Penguins vs Peppers: Cambridge won 3-0

B.Merrett (Westminster & Peterhouse) & W.Reid (Westminster & Queens’) beat F.von Stumm (Eton & Brasenose) & W.Ponsonby (Eton & St.Catherine’s) 3-0 (12-7, 12-2, 12-8)

A.Kane (Charterhouse & Magdalene) & N.Turnbull (RGS, High Wycombe & Trinity Hall) beat S.Thatcher (King Edward’s, Birmingham & Merton) & D.Byam Shaw (Eton & Magdalen) 3-1 (12-7, 10-12, 12-5, 14-12)

K.Bilimoria (Eton & Caius) & E.Day-Collins (Emanuel & Peterhouse) beat F.White-Thomson (Ipswich & Wadham) & R.Badiani (Queen Elizabeth Boys’ School, Barnet & St.Catherine’s) 3-0 (12-7, 12-2, 12-6)

Ladies Match: Oxford won 2-1

H.Rapley (Highgate & Newnham) & S.Kelly (Benenden & Magdalene) lost to I.Watts (Woodbridge & Keble) & R.Parr (Shrewsbury & Christ Church) 0-3 (1-12, 2-12, 3-12)

E.Hullis (Ipswich High School & Wolfson) & E.O’Keeffe (Shrewsbury & Corpus Christi) beat E.Oppenheim (Camden School for Girls & St.Catherine’s) & F.Tay (Sunway University College, Malaysia & St.Edmund Hall) 3-0 (12-7, 12-8, 12-3)

S.Xu (Wallington High School for Girls & Caius) & R.Shiels (Rainey Endowed School & Sidney Sussex) lost to A.Stables (Bristol Grammar & St.Peter’s) & M.Samano (Twyford CE High School & St.Peter’s) 0-3 (9-12, 7-12, 5-12)

Ladies Second Team Match: Cambridge won 2-1

A.Cave (St.Bartholomew’s, Newbury & Magdalene) & P.Ball (Robert Smyth Academy & Christ’s) beat B.Thorne (Calday Grange Grammar School & New) & A.Ying (Charterhouse & St.John’s) 3-0 (12-6, 12-4, 12-3)

A.Calderbank (Wycombe Abbey & Peterhouse) & L.Simpson (Rugby & Robinson) beat F.Crossley (Clifton High School & Christ Church) & E.Dyer (Trinity School & Christ Church) 3-0 (12-2, 12-4, 12-7)

N.Lim (Cheltenham Ladies College & Newnham) & M.Pieri (Bancroft’s & Christ’s) lost to E.Zanchini (D’Overbroeck’s & St.Catherine’s) & A.Coen (Withington Girls’ School & Merton) 0-3 (8-12, 6-12, 11-14)

Alumni Match: Cambridge won 3-1

J.Black & G.Pulsford beat F.Imrie & W.Betts 3-0 (12-6, 12-2, 12-3)

M.Street & H.Platt/K.Hird lost to M.Fiennes & W.Howard 2-3 (6-12, 4-12, 12-4, 12-10, 9-12)

S.Woolfries & T.Fletcher beat M.Platt & A.Mitchell 3-0 (12-7, 12-6, 12-7)

K.Hird & C.Cooley beat F.Krespi & H.Mostyn 3-0 (12-4, 12-3, 12-6)

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