Varsity match by year:
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in play at Hurlingham
In play at Hurlingham

Oxford beat Cambridge 9-0

In 1961 Cambridge beat Oxford in the first ever Croquet Varsity Match. So on 20th June 2011, the 50th anniversary of that first match, the question was: would Cambridge be able to halt their run of defeats in recent years and repeat that initial victory? On paper the odds were against it, not least because of the huge growth in popularity of the Association Croquet game at Oxford: this year the annual internal Oxford University 'Cuppers' tournament has more than 1,800 participants, an extraordinary number, which Oxford claims to be the largest competition they have ever held in any sport. Remarkable.

Harry Fisher
Harry Fisher in contemplation

The Cambridge squad arrived ready for the fray at the Hurlingham Club host venue, only to discover that their opponents were an hour late, having been stuck in traffic on the M4 (along with your reporter) following an accident. So play started under sunny skies at 11:30, and a reduced time-limit of 2½ hours was agreed for both morning and afternoon sessions. The forecast of late afternoon rain might perhaps have had something to do with it as well, after the drenching last year. The match format was the same as usual: three doubles games in the morning and six singles in the afternoon, all played to Level Advanced rules.

Rush + Alex
Rush Cosgrove shooting, partner
Alex Gruzenberg can't bear to watch

On court 2, Oxford's Nigel Urban soon made a flying start, and quickly executed a tidy 4-ball break round to 4-back. His leave would also have been a tidy diagonal spread but for one mistake, which was leaving his rush pointing towards hoop 1 rather than along the diagonal, and thus a double target for the Cambridge lift to A-baulk - which they duly hit. Likewise on court 3 Oxford's Harry Fisher had also made good progress to 4-back. His Cambridge opponent Rob Thorman was able to catch him up with his own break to 4-back, but his rather loose leave provided Oxford with a triple target shooting from B-baulk, with the inevitable consequence. Meanwhile on court 4, Oxford's captain and strongest player, William Gee, had been holding back while trying to help his partner Simon Picot round. But when partner had only reached hoop 4 after 90 minutes, and with the likelihood of a finish on time becoming stronger, Will decided to abandon the hope of a TP and took himself round to 4-back when an opportunity arose. Then as the final hour of play passed, Oxford pair Nigel Urban and John Gale both made it to the first peg-out, while on the other two courts the lead Oxford players in each pair progressed to peg and ended with comfortable wins on time after their Cambridge opponents missed their remaining lift shots. Score at lunch: 3-0 to Oxford.

Sam Tudor
Sam Tudor making his break
Will Gee
William Gee pegging out

After lunch, and suitably fortified by the excellent Hurlingham hospitality, the teams resumed with the six singles games. These were played once again to a 2½-hour time-limit. For aficionados the top game brought the enticing prospect of an A-class battle between two minus-handicappers: Oxford's William Gee vs. Cambridge's Sam Tudor - the latter mysteriously having been left 'on the bench' during the morning doubles in spite of his being easily Cambridge's strongest player. Will won the toss and put his first ball to the east boundary. Sam laid a Duffer tice which Will ignored, instead joining up on the east boundary. Sam missed his tice, and Will was able to pick up the break to 4-back with a NSL, but with Sam's yellow tight against the north side of 4 and therefore not rushable to 1. Sam took the long lift shot from B-baulk, missing into corner IV. Will then had to rush yellow some 8 yards north of hoop 1 and try a long backwards take-off approach, which ran into the hoop, so he retreated to the boundary. Sam missed the ball by 2, and Will was able to hit in and start arranging his TP. Everything went well until the 4-back peel attempt at 3 when he ran 3 too far and knocked the peelee out of position on the return roquet. So revert to plan B - the delayed triple. The 4-back peel was successful while going to 6, after which the break became somewhat erratic with the consequence that the final two peels had to be attempted straight. The penult peel from several yards away only just trickled through, blocking the path for striker's ball, and a rather desperate attempt at promoting peelee with a cannon from another croqueted ball ended in failure, leaving Will with no option but to try an awkward scatter shot, which also failed off the hoop. Sam duly took his opportunity and his first ball round to 4-back, leaving a tight diagonal spread. Will took the long lift shot from B-baulk, hitting centre ball, and from there his finish to a +17 win was relatively routine.

In the other games, Harry Fisher had a straightforward +26 win against Edward Turnham, securing the fifth win and the match for Oxford; John Gale was never in trouble against Tony Williams on his way to a +18 win; and Luke Valori built and held onto his advantage against James Folliard. For a while it looked as though Cambridge's Rob Thorman and Rush Cosgrove both might prevail against their respective opponents Nigel Urban and Jonathan Lindsell, but as the time limit approached both these games turned Oxford's way too, with Nigel managing to peg out to complete his +4 win within time. Well-timed, since the light rain arrived as expected just as play finished. Final score: 9-0 to Oxford.

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The trophy was presented to worthy winners Oxford by match referee Richard Hilditch, along with the champagne presented to both teams by a representative from the sponsors Pol Roger.

Photo gallery
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Scores (Oxford names first, with handicaps where known)

William Gee (-1) & Simon Picot (16) vs. David Garner & Robin Šmíd
Harry Fisher (3) & Matt Smith vs. Robert Thorman & Tony Williams
Nigel Urban (3½) & John Gale (10) vs. Alex Gruzenberg & Rush Cosgrove


William Gee (-1) vs. Sam Tudor
Harry Fisher (3) vs. Edward Turnham
Nigel Urban (3½) vs. Robert Thorman
John Gale (10) vs. Tony Williams
Luke Valori (9) vs. James Folliard
Jonathan Lindsell vs. Rush Cosgrove



See also:

Oxford University Croquet Club
Cambridge University Association Croquet Club

Report and photos by Simon Hathrell