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.
Both first pairs were fresh from success in national competitions and the first game was very keenly fought with Oxford’s Cobb and Piggott showing the fine skills in attack and retrieval. 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, with even more determination from the Dark Blues to redress the balance. However, Cambridge’s resistance produced unforced errors from their opponents, which precipitated a crisis of self-confidence in the Oxford pair – Cambridge won the second 12-8 and the third a devastating 12-1. Better preparation as a pair and fierce consistency from both Houlden and Barker were decisive factors in an entirely convincing 3-0 win.
Another excellent contest was taking place in the second Blues court. 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. An Oxford recovery 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 they showed their greater consistency to subdue Alistair Stewart and Sudhir Balaji, an unfortunate result for a pair who had shown considerable improvement throughout the 2015-16 season.
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. 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’s Ewan Day-Collins and Kai Bilimoria. 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 – Ben Merrett and Will Reid – looked like they had a pretty clear game plan and played the steadier fives all afternoon. Oxford’s 1st pair 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. It was not until half way through the third 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 and was the best quality match of the three. 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 (Oxf) huge cut beginning to take effect, it may have seemed like the tide was turning, but both Anthony Kane and Nathan Turnbull (Cam) 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 not lie down and die and the fourth game was a veritable humdinger, which either pair might have won – 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, but the majority of players had learned their Fives at Oxford or Cambridge and many were in their first year of playing.
Izzy Watts, playing in her seventh and final Varsity match for Oxford teamed up with Oxford captain Rosie Parr to win convincingly against Hannah Rapley and Sophie Kelly for the loss of only six points. A surprising result for the Cambridge first pair, who had produced some strong results earlier in the season.
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, Elli showed her class and was the dominant player on court in a fine match, as she and Salopian Esmé O’Keeffe edged past Oxford, despite their gutsy performance.
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 Susanna 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 their Oxford opponents who took 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 their Oxford counterparts.
At fifth pair, Lottie Simpson and her partner Annie Calderbank produced a terrific performance to frustrate Oxford, 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 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 (Oxf) 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 (with Elli Hullis providing the Cambridge blue face paint!) and leading nicely into the evening’s celebrations.
Winners: The Cambridge Team!
Blues Match: Cambridge won 2-1
- T.Barker & R.Houlden beat J.Cobb & J.Piggot 3-0 (14-12, 12-8, 12-1)
- J.Parham & J.Abbott beat J.Flowers & O.Sale 3-0 (12-10, 12-8, 14-13)
- A.Stewart & S.Balaji lost to T.Kirkby & S.Oppenheimer 0-3 (6-12, 7-12, 9-12)
Penguins vs Peppers: Cambridge won 3-0
- B.Merrett & W.Reid beat F.von Stumm & W.Ponsonby 3-0 (12-7, 12-2, 12-8)
- A.Kane & N.Turnbull beat S.Thatcher & D.Byam Shaw 3-1 (12-7, 10-12, 12-5, 14-12)
- K.Bilimoria & E.Day-Collins beat F.White-Thomson & R.Badiani 3-0 (12-7, 12-2, 12-6)
Ladies Match: Oxford won 2-1
- H.Rapley & S.Kelly lost to I.Watts & R.Parr 0-3 (1-12, 2-12, 3-12)
- E.Hullis & E.O’Keeffe beat E.Oppenheim & F.Tay 3-0 (12-7, 12-8, 12-3)
- S.Xu & R.Shiels lost to A.Stables & M.Samano 0-3 (9-12, 7-12, 5-12)
Ladies Second Team Match: Cambridge won 2-1
- A.Cave & P.Ball beat B.Thorne & A.Ying 3-0 (12-6, 12-4, 12-3)
- A.Calderbank & L.Simpson beat F.Crossley & E.Dyer 3-0 (12-2, 12-4, 12-7)
- N.Lim & M.Pieri lost to E.Zanchini & A.Coen 0-3 (8-12, 6-12, 11-14)