The first ever game between the Irish Exiles and Oxford University took place on Sunday, November 6 at the Christ Church sports ground in Oxford.
The first ever game between the Irish Exiles and Oxford University took place on Sunday, November 6 at Christ Church sports ground in Oxford.
Originally planned as a curtain raiser to the Oxford v Tonga game, this Under-21 match was moved to the nearby college ground because of the weather conditions. Christ Church, nestled beside the University athletic track where Roger Bannister broke the 4-minute mile, proved to have an excellent playing surface despite the amount of rain.
The University U-21s, using this game as a key step towards their Varsity game with Cambridge in four weeks’ time, played with great intensity. However, the Exiles squad, consisting mainly of Under-20 players, were more than up to the task. Their game was wonderfully marshalled by U-21 half-backs, Duncan James and Kieran Hallett. Both of these players brought their National One experience to the game and helped the younger players around them.
Oxford opened the scoring with a penalty by fly-half Tim Catling, but the Exiles came back with a wonderfully worked try in the left corner by full-back Patrick O’Grady. This try was the result of quick hands and a series of loop plays. The University came back with yet another penalty before James Shiells went in close to the posts off a well-weighted pass from Hallett. The build-up to this try had seen the forwards retain the ball through at least eight phases.
Half-time came in a well-contested game with the Exiles leading 10-6. However, after the restart, the Exiles missed a few good scoring opportunities and allowed Oxford to take the lead with a good try by Jules Allfrey, converted by Catling.
The Exiles came back strongly, with openside flanker Ejike Uzoigwe, who was named in the Ireland Under-21 training squad last week. Ejike, despite having played a game the day before, covered virtually every blade of grass on the pitch.
The Exiles continued to play the ball wide, despite the conditions, and were rewarded when “pocket dynamo” Rory Morrissey used his considerable pace down the left wing, winning the race to his own chip ahead to touch down for a try in the left corner. This unconverted try put the Exiles back in the lead at 15-13.
Some changes to the Exiles’ front row saw Nick Goodger come into tight-head and Anthony Kane move across to replace 18-year-old David Millard at loose-head. Millard, a very promising young player who played for Ireland at U-18 level last season, stepped up to the mark in this game and did not look out of place despite the age difference. The fresh legs in the front row put the Exiles on the front foot and their forward effort was rewarded by a converted try from captain Daniel Falvey, stretching the Exiles’ lead to 22-13.
At this stage, the Exiles made further changes with Hallett, Crossley, Uzoigwe and O’Grady leaving the pitch. They were replaced by James at hooker, Fenlon at flanker, MacLoughlin at inside centre, and Flannery on the wing. Shiells moved to fly-half, Boles to full-back, to complete the reshuffle, and give all the squad members a chance to impress watching Ireland U-21 coach Mark McDermott.
Before the Exiles could settle into this new combination, Oxford again scored, with centre Jon Hyatt bursting through the middle and the supporting play giving Squires a score in the corner. Allfrey kicked a difficult conversion from the touchline to reduce the Exiles’ lead to two points. However, the Exiles’ scrum was exerting tremendous pressure on the Oxford eight, which was only alleviated by the referee insisting on penalising the Exiles scrum, much to the puzzlement of the front row. Given this solid forward pressure, flanker David Fenlon, an Ireland U-18 international last season, was a constant menace to Oxford. His effort was rewarded with an unconverted try, following the best driving maul of the game, which gave the Exiles a well-deserved 27-20 victory.
Both sides then returned to the historic Iffley Road, home of OURFC, to enjoy a meal together surrounded by pictures of the past. Players such as Tommy Bedford (South African captain), Chris Laidlaw (All Blacks captain), and Peter Dixon (British & Irish Lions) looked down as the young Exiles’ players enjoyed their Oxford experience. Both OURFC and the Exiles have agreed that the game at Iffley Road will become a permanent fixture in the future.
Forwards – David Millard, Patrick Crossley, Anthony Kane, Liam O’Neil, Tom Payne, Tom Cleary, Ejike Uzoigwe, Daniel Falvey, Simon James, David Fenlon, Nick Goodger.
Backs – Duncan James, Kieran Hallett, Robert Boles, James Shiells, Matthew Williams, Rory Morrissey, Patrick O’Grady, Matthew MacLoughlin, Sean Flannery.
Coaches: Peter Halsall & Kevan Bell Manager: Ces Shaw