What is the Varsity Match and Why it Matters
Take it from us, you don’t need to know the difference between your rucks and your mauls to get excited for Varsity Rugby.
This fixture remains as one of the highlights of the English sporting calendar, and the annual event sees Oxford and Cambridge battle for the title of Varsity holders. What’s more, is that this all takes place at the spiritual home of English Rugby and the second-largest sports stadium in the United Kingdom - Twickenham.
This is a huge event, and even those who hold just a passing knowledge of rugby are aware of it. The question is, why? Why is it so important, and what is the history behind one of the world’s longest sporting fixtures?
Even if you aren’t a rugby connoisseur, you are most likely still aware of the age-old rivalry that exists between Oxford and Cambridge. The match has been held every year since 1872 and was first held at Twickenham in 1921. Whilst Oxford and Cambridge are not professional teams, they consistently do a world-class job of promoting the sport’s values and traditions.
Additionally, despite being an amateur match, it is no stranger to huge crowds and internationally renowned players, for example, all-time rugby great Jamie Roberts playing for Cambridge as recently as 2017.
Don’t be fooled by the title of ‘University Sport’. This is anything but an excuse for drinking and social gatherings. Both teams go through extensive preparation for the game every year, playing against other top universities and occasionally elite professional teams. All this, in an attempt to come out on top in the season’s defining match - Varsity.
So, why does all this matter? Beyond the innovative sporting steps that this fixture’s early matches brought about, it now serves as a fixed focal point for some of amateur sports finest athletes to take the field. The success of sport in universities has long been an interesting gauge of the prestige of an establishment. Varsity rugby serves a much greater purpose.
Varsity gives players and fans alike an opportunity to engage in sport at the highest level for just one day. Varsity transcends rugby, and arguably sport altogether. It’s a tale of rivalry, respect, camaraderie and hardship, and the fact that it remains a staple of the rugby calendar is fitting for this great fixture.
In more recent times, the game has attracted more than hundreds of thousands of live spectators, and millions of television viewers. With the introduction of the Women’s Varsity Match relatively recently, we’ve seen a more rounded heritage for this rich cultural exhibition as old as rugby itself.
As it stands, the teams are poised in an enthralling competitive balance. Of the 136 men’s fixtures played, remarkably for rugby, over 10% have ended in a draw. Currently, Cambridge lead the way with the narrowest of margins, with just 63 wins to Oxford’s 60. Likewise in the women’s table, the gap is not much larger, with Oxford leading Cambridge 19 wins to 13.
Another beauty of this fixture is that tickets remain readily obtainable and affordable with gameplay standards continue to rise. Get your own ticket here.
Sometimes, special sporting events can do something more than just entertain. Sporting showcases can strengthen society through teaching values such as dedication, respect, and integrity - Varsity does just this and more. The ability for 46 amateur students to come together to create something internationally renowned on the biggest stage is truly spectacular. For just 80-minutes, a group of university students are propelled to athletic stardom, competing in front of their friends, families and TV audiences nationwide. Whatever your opinion of rugby, or sport in general for that matter, this is truly something to behold.
As a company closely tied to Oxbridge and its people, we say long may this remarkable sporting display continue as we are proud to be associated with it and what it symbolises.
The Varsity Match means the world to both teams that go head to head with each other, as well as the individuals that make up the teams themselves. We got in touch with Michael Phillips, a player who has taken part in 4 Varsity Matches so far, and he has this to say about his experience:
“Over my past 5 years at university, I have been involved in 4 Varsity matches, winning two and losing two; hopefully I am selected this year, and can go out on a high. This is never more apparent than when comparing the two teams come the final whistle on December 12th. For the losers, heartbreak and despair, as countless hours of work yield no reward; my first loss remains the darkest day in my rugby career. For the winners, jubilation – a high like no other – and a place in the history books alongside legends of the game. The emotional rollercoaster of my journey would be totally inconceivable to my first-year self, and at the end of the day, I am proud to have experienced both the highs and the lows as part of the CURUFC.”