Varsity Match 2013: The Wind of Change

The 2013 Pol Roger Varsity Match took place at Eton on Saturday and saw dominant performances from the Cambridge men and the Oxford ladies.

Rodney Knight reports:

Winds of change are blowing through University Fives and the future holds exciting challenges and opportunities, as the game opens up to women and new players from schools not associated with the game in the past. The wind is blowing most strongly in Cambridge, with the addition of three Eton and three Rugby courts in the state-of –the- art Sports Centre and the possibility of two Eton courts at Caius College.

This might have inspired the Light Blues to reverse the result of last year’s match as they triumphed in five of the six men’s rubbers this year. Their women however were no match for Oxford who performed a professional 6-0 victory over their opposite numbers.

Courtesy of the Provost and Fellows, the excellent Eton courts were once again host to only the third four team match between the old rivals, following the Old Blues match and preceding a 25 hour Fives marathon for prostate cancer by Eton boys.

Blues Match

Cambridge were the favourite for the men’s Blues Match with first pair Jamie Abbott and Robert Wilson recent U21 and Universities winners and quarter-finalists in the Kinnaird Cup. They did duly defeat a competent Oxford pair in three games although Flowers and Goodman for Oxford started well but were just unable to keep up pressure on the Cambridge pair, who recovered their length and volleying accuracy and were much less easily cut down.

The Light Blue third pair also started badly but recovered from a 1-6 deficit to win the first game 12-7. With an audience of three of the four parents, there was a spirited response from Oxford’s Packer and Noyes and a very close contest, but Weller and Illingworth ran out winners 3-0, bringing the Varsity win to Cambridge.

Second pair has usually proved the most competitive rubber and so it proved this year, although unusually the match did not depend upon it. Cambridge might have won easily had they secured a very tight second game having won the first; but Imrie and Byam Shaw for the Dark Blues clinched it 15-14 and took the next 12-8. Patel and Crawford then came back to win the fourth 12-7 to make for an exciting finish. Honours were even in the fifth until the accurate cutting of the Oxford pair wore down the resistance of their opponents, allowing them to pull ahead and win 12-8 to conclude an excellent match.

Penguins v Peppers

The teams were not unevenly matched, but the suspicion was that the Oxford players were less practiced as they made more errors than their opposition. Notably, 5 of the 12 players came from schools without eton courts, yet the standard of play was up to the expected standard and all the rubbers worth watching; a tribute to the Clubs’ recruitment and enthusiasm. Cambridge won 3-0 in all three pairs.

Ladies Match

Oxford have been building up a strong squad over the last couple of years and with nine of last year's victorious team returning and the addition of a couple of new strong players, it was always hard to see how an inexperienced Cambridge team were going to be able to compete and they duly struggled to cope in the face of the Dark Blue onslaught. University champions Constance Mantle and Izzy Watts at first pair beat old rivals Elana Osen and Olivia Prankerd Smith for the loss of just 8 points at first pair; as it turned out this was the highest number of points conceded by Oxford in any of the six pairs. Captain Alice Walker and Harriet Asquith beat Cambridge skipper Marta Karbowska and Anneliese O'Malley and Julia Toynton and Scarlett Maguire whitewashed Katherine Morris and Olivia Vane at third pair.

The story in the second team match was similar: Harriet Allan and Lucy Rands were both very unlucky to miss out on a place in the first six and took their frustrations out on the Cambridge pair of Amabel Clarke and Akanksha Bhat; these two Cambridge freshers have only been playing for a few weeks, however, and are the future of Cambridge Fives. Despite their defeat they are already showing very promising signs and have the ability to turn into a high quality pair in the future. Oxford's fifth and sixth pairs are less experienced than the first four, but both were still too strong for their Cambridge opponents. Sophie Cowen and Esme Brommage have practised hard all year and improved a huge amount and they fully deserved their win over Sarah Chowienczyk and Jumoye Knee while Antonella Gorenflos and Emily Cornish completed the 3-0 second team win over Becca Steer and Faye Maughan, who played exceptionally well for someone playing Fives for only the second time.

An interesting footnote was the subsequent 2-1 victory in a one game challenge match by the Oxford first three pairs against their equivalent opposition in the Oxford men's second team, which showed just what the Cambridge ladies were up against!

Both ladies teams have a lot to be proud of. Oxford have been building towards this result for over two years, with strong showings in lots of other senior level tournaments and now have a system in place that will hopefully continue producing strong players into the ladies game for years to come. Despite their defeat, Cambridge - and captain Marta Karbowska in particular - have worked wonders this year to produce a full six pair team and introduce a large number of new players to the game, all with just one court to play on. Hopefully the new courts in the sports centre will provide the impetus for them to keep recruiting and to keep improving.

Reception and Dinner

Pol Roger had again sponsored t-shirts for the teams and provided enough champagne for a lively Reception and a bottle for each winning pair in the men’s and women’s competitions.

Hosting us again in the master’s dining room, Mark Williams provided the usual excellent facilities for players and guests and reminded the teams of the debt they owed to Pol Roger for raising the level of prestige and enjoyment of this expanded Varsity match.

Guest of Honour Richard Black, Chairman of the Charitable Trust and EFA Chairman elect, stressed the significance of the changes affecting the game and the key role of the two universities with eton courts in providing continuity after school age and diversity in the encouragement of women players, new players and community engagement.

He encouraged donations towards the new Cambridge Eton courts to match those of students for the Rugby courts and offered warm thanks to Eton College and Mark Williams for their unfailing support for this important contest, so much enjoyed by all participants.

Blues Match: Cambridge 2 Oxford 1

J.Abbott (Eton & Magdalene) & R.Wilson (RGS High Wycombe & Clare) beat J.Flowers (Shrewsbury & Brasenose) & F.Goodman (Eton & Christ Church) 3-0 (12-6, 12-3, 12-2)

S.Patel (Westminster & Caius) & A.Crawford (Reading & Caius) lost to F.Imrie (Charterhouse & Lady Margaret Hall) & D.Byam Shaw (Eton & Magdalen) 2-3 (12-6, 14-15, 8-12, 12-7, 8-12)

J.Weller (Mill Hill & King’s) & G.Illingworth (Westminster & Queens’) beat S.Packer (City of London & Somerville) & M.Noyes (RGS High Wycombe & Lincoln) 3-0 (12-7, 12-4, 14-10)

Penguins vs Peppers: Cambridge 3 Oxford 0

A.Rattan (Berkhamsted & King’s) & D.Hewlett (St.Olave’s & Emmanuel) beat B.Radcliffe (Shrewsbury & Christ Church) & E.Birkett (Charterhouse & Trinity) 3-0 (12-7, 12-5, 12-9)

C.Moore (Clifton College & Corpus Christi) & J.Crawford (Reading & Jesus) beat S.Thatcher (King Edward’s, Birmingham & Merton) & A.Leigh-Pemberton (Eton & Pembroke) 3-0 (12-9, 12-7, 12-3)

C.Meiring (Birkdale School & Magdalene) & J.Ataman (City of London & St.John’s) beat R.Jain (King Edward’s, Birmingham & Merton) & A.Mullan (Clifton College & Balliol) 3-0 12-1, 14-13, 12-7)

Ladies Match: Cambridge 0 Oxford 3

E.Osen (Westminster & Magdalene) & O.Prankerd-Smith (Westminster & Peterhouse) lost to I.Watts (Woodbridge & Keble) & C.Mantle (Highgate & Exeter) 0-3 (2-12, 6-12, 0-12)

A.O’Malley (St.Olave’s & Caius) & M.Karbowska (IB World School 1531, Warsaw & Newnham) lost to A.Walker (Shrewsbury & Lady Margaret Hall) & H.Asquith (Wycombe Abbey & Corpus Christi) 0-3 (2-12, 2-12, 0-12)

K.Morris (Cheltenham Ladies’ College & Homerton) & O.Vane (RGS Newcastle & Magdalene) lost to S.Maguire (Brighton College & Wadham) & J.Toynton (Canford & Keble) 0-3 (0-12, 0-12, 0-12)

Ladies Second Team Match: Cambridge 0 Oxford 3

A.Bhat (Cheltenham Ladies' College & Trinity) & A.Clark (Cheltenham Ladies' College & Trinity) lost to H.Allan (Westminster & Queen’s) & L.Rands (Shrewsbury & Trinity) 0-3 (2-12, 0-12, 1-12)

S.Chowienczyk (St.Olave’s & Caius) & J.Knee (Ecole Active Bilingue Jeannine Manuel & Peterhouse) lost to S.Cowen (St.Mary’s, Shaftesbury & Exeter) & E.Brommage (Haydon School, Hillingdon & Keble) 0-3 (0-12, 3-12, 4-12)

R.Steer (Ipswich High School for Girls & Emmanuel) & F.Maughan (St. Anthony's Girls' School, Sunderland & Newnham) lost to E.Cornish (Benenden & Christ Church) & A.Gorenflos (Oxford High School & Exeter) 0-3 (0-12, 5-12, 1-12)

Old Blues Match: Cambridge 5 Oxford 1

N.Gill & T.Fletcher lost to S.Ranasinghe & W.Betts 0-3 (6-12, 7-12, 5-12)

D.Davis & P.Nichols beat T.Greene & F.von Guionneau 3-0 (12-8, 12-2, 12-8)

R.Desmond & E.Winfield beat W.Howard & M.Platt 3-0 (12-8, 14-12, 12-9)

J.Asquith & P.Wilson beat F.Krespi & H.Mostyn 3-1 (12-6, 12-11, 6-12, 12-4)

C.Cooley & K.Hird beat N.Cox & S.Nowinski 3-0 (12-9, 14-13, 12-3)

G.Hoskins & E.Cohen beat H.Tobias & J.Nelmes 2-0 (12-8, 15-14)

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