2014 Varsity Match: Champagne Fives
Rodney Knight reports:
If victory in this historic encounter were to be measured in bottles of Pol Roger Champagne, the laurels this year would go to Oxford 9-3. The Men’s Blues match was in fact decisively won by Cambridge 3-0, however, while the Oxford Peppers won their match equally convincingly and the Oxford Ladies achieved a second successive 6-0 whitewash.
In their 3-0 win over Oxford captain Jack Flowers and Frank Collings,the Cambridge first pair of Jamie Abbott and captain Robert Wilson (the Universities and Under 21 champions) conceded one game fewer than last year. The Oxford pair started well and matched the fast volleying and good retrieval of the Light Blues; but they could not keep up the pressure and yielded increasingly to errors, which cost them first the game and then the rubber. Fine cutting and retrieval of cut has distinguished this Cambridge pair for two years, fitting them for success at a higher level in the future.
The return of Rory Griffiths to join Riki Houlden at second pair was always a threat to a good Oxford pairing of Fergus Imrie and Dan Byam Shaw and spectators anticipated a hard-fought contest; but an injury to one of the Dark Blues impaired their lively performance and the sharp volleying and accurate cutting ensured steady progress of the Light Blues to a 3-0 victory.
In third pair, the experienced Jack Weller and Alex Rattan for Cambridge were surprised by a late surge of points from Oxford’s Ed Birkett and Max Wintle in the first game, drawing them level at 10 all. But the Dark Blues could not sustain the pressure and conceded at 14-12 and the next two games to give the Light Blues a clean sweep of this Blues encounter.
Reversing last year’s result, the Oxford Peppers produced Fives of a higher than usual standard to take all rubbers without loss of a game. Sam Packer and Sacha Mehta kept their nerve in two close games to defeat Charlie Moore and Sudhir Balaji at first pair in an exciting rubber and the Oxford President Dr Nigel Cox distinguished himself in assisting Stephen Thatcher to come through against Saj Patel and John Crawford in a good contest at second pair. Charlie Kershaw and Dan Paul had an easier passage at third pair and won comfortably dropping only 6 points.
It was good to see this very competitive match played in an excellent spirit and to note that three of the second teams came from non-fives-playing schools as well as the likes of Cranleigh, St.Bees and City of London.
Cambridge must certainly hope that their new courts will inspire athletes of other sports played in the new Sports Centre to take up the game.
In many ways, the Ladies match was a repeat of last year's contest, with the Cambridge pairs no match for their Oxford counterparts, losing 3-0 in every pair. Despite the loss of four of last year's key players, Oxford still had a strong and experienced group, who had practised hard all year and who were ably led by captain Izzy Watts and former captain Alice Walker at first pair. Cambridge's first pair of Elana Osen and Olivia Prankerd Smith have been the mainstays of Cambridge Ladies Fives for the last couple of years and are a much improved pair this year. The battle between these four players in the top court was a terrific spectacle, but in the end Walker and Watts repeated their win over the same pair in the Universities final, coming through 3-0. At second pair Cambridge captain Akanksha Bhat and Sophie Kelly came up against a far more experienced Oxford pair in Hannah Pritchard and Scarlett Maguire and it was a similar story at third pair where Oxford's Lucy Rands and Kate Millar (the first Old Marlburian Eton Fives half-blue for many a year) beat Emma Shillam and Lizzie Tobin for the loss of only 5 points.
With so few available players with any significant pre-University Fives experience, Cambridge had done terrifically well to produce a full team, and all of their players showed promise for the future - regular practice and time on court will undoubtedly bring about fast improvement and a stronger challenge next year. Oxford, too, have done their share of introducing newcomers to the sport and bringing them up to an impressive standard. Alicia Walker has only been playing for a few months but, together with Old Berkhamstedian Kate Hodkinson, won the second team first pair match over Nikky Fleurke and Hannah Shaw without conceding a single point. Connie van Stroud and Rose Stevens - undoubtedly the tallest pair in the short history of the Ladies Varsity match - had to work harder at second pair to get on top of the determined Cambridge pairing of Hassal Lee and Susanna Xu. The final pair featured four players playing in their first ever competitive match, and saw a win for Oxford's Katies - Townsend and Creamer - over Cambridge's Rebecca Palmer and Alexandra Gazi.
Both teams celebrated in style thanks to sponsors Pol Roger and dinner hosts Eton College. Our thanks go to Pol Roger and to Mark Williams, Alice Ford and Mike Hughes at Eton.
Results (Cambridge names first)
Blues Match: Cambridge won 3-0
J.Abbott (Eton & Magdalene) & R.Wilson (RGS High Wycombe & Clare) beat J.Flowers (Shrewsbury & Brasenose) & F.Collings (Shrewsbury & St.Edmund’s Hall) 3-0 (12-5, 12-4, 12-1)
R.Griffiths (Shrewsbury & Trinity Hall) & R.Houlden (Westminster & Christ’s) beat F.Imrie (Charterhouse & Lady Margaret Hall) & D.Byam Shaw (Eton & Magdalen) 3-0 (12-4, 12-5, 12-4)
J.Weller (Mill Hill & King’s) & A.Rattan (Berkhamsted & King’s) beat E.Birkett (Charterhouse & Trinity) & M.Wintle (Highgate & Lady Margaret Hall) 3-0 (14-12, 12-8, 12-4)
Penguins vs Peppers: Oxford won 3-0
C.Moore (Clifton College & Corpus Christi) & S.Balaji (St.Olave’s & Queens’) lost to S.Packer (City of London & Somerville) & S.Mehta (Westminster & St.Peter’s) 0-3 (9-12, 4-12, 12-15)
S.Patel (Westminster & Sidney Sussex) & J.Crawford (Reading & Jesus) lost to S.Thatcher (King Edward’s, Birmingham & Merton) & N.Cox (Lancing & Brasenose) 0-3 (5-12, 4-12, 10-12)
P.Thompson (Cranleigh & Sidney Sussex) & L.Gribble (St.Bees & Trinity) lost to D.Paul (Haberdasher’s Askes & Brasenose) & C.Kershaw (St.Olave’s & Lady Margaret Hall) 0-3 (4-12, 1-12, 1-12)
Ladies Match: Oxford won 3-0
E.Osen (Westminster & Magdalene) & O.Prankerd-Smith (Westminster & Peterhouse) lost to I.Watts (Woodbridge & Keble) & A.Walker (Shrewsbury& Lady Margaret Hall) 0-3 (6-12, 7-12, 7-12)
A.Bhat (Cheltenham Ladies' College & Trinity) & S.Kelly (Benenden & Magdalene) lost to S.Maguire (Brighton College & Wadham) & H.Pritchard (Shrewsbury & Queen’s) 0-3 (1-12, 3-12, 1-12)
E.Shillam (Westminster & St.John's) & L.Tobin (Tunbridge Wells Girls' Grammar School & St.John's) lost to L.Rands (Shrewsbury & Trinity) & K.Millar (Marlborough & Lady Margaret Hall) 0-3 (4-12, 1-12, 2-12)
Ladies Second Team Match: Oxford won 3-0
N.Fleurke (Montessori High School & Trinity) & H.Shaw (Oxford High School & Magdalene) lost to A.Walker (Rugby & New) & K.Hodkinson (Berkhamsted & Jesus) 0-3 (0-12, 0-12, 0-12)
H.Lee (Westminster & Caius) & S.Xu (Wallington High School for Girls & Caius) lost to C.von Stroud (Highgate & Wadham) & R.Stevens (Clifton College & Wadham) 0-3 (7-12, 5-12, 2-12)
R.Palmer (Clifton High School & Emmanuel) & A.Gazi (Beal High School & Magdalene) lost to K.Townsend (Newstead Wood & Christ Church) and K.Creamer (Redland Green & New) 0-3 (1-12, 0-12, 7-12)
Old Blues Match:
R.Bryan & J.Asquith lost to S.Ranasinghe & W.Betts 1-3 (11-15, 11-15, 12-3, 3-12)
S.Woolfries & A.Crawford lost to H.Mackenzie & J.Knight 2-3 (5-12, 11-14, 12-9, 12-5, 6-12)
C.Cooley & K.Hird lost to H.Asquith & G.Hoskins 1-3 (7-12, 13-14, 14-13, 9-12)