It’s not often that a matchup between Adelaide and Port Adelaide will take a backseat to another same day fixture when it comes to footy’s biggest rivalries, but this Saturday might just be the exception to the rule.
Some 16,300km away from the pre-season Showdown at the Alberton Oval, two of the games oldest and fiercest combatants will face off again in the 98th annual Varsity Game between Oxford and Cambridge Universities.
The fixture pre-dates the first World War, with the first recorded match between the two sides taking place in 1911 before it became a yearly fixture from 1921 onwards, making it the longest running Australian Rules fixture to be played outside of Australia.
Adding to the significance of the 2018 edition is the inaugural women’s varsity match that will follow the men’s game, breaking new ground after the two teams competed as a composite side in an exhibition against the Wandsworth Demons last year.
Now with the chance to compete against each other for the first time, the Oxford Women who were founded by PhD student Rachel Paterson back in 2012 will host Cambridge at the Marston Road Sports Ground and be eager to claim the early bragging rights.
That will be no easy task though against a Cambridge side who will be buoyed by the experience of their debut Fitzpatrick Cup campaign in Cork in February, where their star Catherine Ludden took out player of the tournament honours.
Footage taken from the 1925 Varsity game
Cambridge University’s ties with Australian Rules football stretch back almost as far as the code itself, with footballs proverbial founding father Tom Wills attending the University in the 1850’s before returning to Melbourne and penning the first laws of the game in 1859.
Club president Chris Jacob says that while the club has gone through a transitional period in recent times, spirits are high heading into their most anticipated game of the year.
‘’The vibe this year has been fantastic… the injection of new people and a whole women’s team had drastically change the culture for the better. We moved training to Newnham College thanks to a new collaboration, and having a permanent home changes the way we approach training as well as socializing. A revamped board has provided new enthusiasm for the future of the club and we only hope to keep building.’’
On the men’s front, it will be Oxford who goes in with the confidence edge after taking out the previous two varsity games, with a tight 6-point victory in 2016 followed by last year’s convincing 52-point result.
Oxford club president Mitchell Robertson said he expects to see two highly competitive matches, and similarly to his Cambridge counterpart channelled Dennis Denuto in describing a very positive atmosphere at the club.
‘’There is such a positive vibe and momentum around the place, particularly for the women where this has been a long time coming and a long-held dream, so to now realise that everything is coming together is a really special moment.’’
‘’We’re hoping the fact it’s the first women’s varsity will draw a crowd and we have quite a few former players coming down from London to watch from the men’s team’’ Robertson said.
OXFORD UNIVERSITY V CAMBRIDGE UNIVERSITY – VARSITY MATCH
SATURDAY 10TH MARCH – MARSTON ROAD SPORTS GROUND
FIRST BOUNCE: 12PM MENS, 2PM WOMENS
Riley Brettell – AFL Europe