Dublin University Ladies Football Club (DULFC) clinched a momentous victory over Oxford University Rugby Club women’s first team on Friday night.
Under the lights at College Park, DULFC won by a single point, 34-33, in what was a landmark encounter between the two sides.
Never before had they met on any field, and the significance of the occasion was seemingly not lost on the players, who floored the throttle from the first minute to the final one.
For DULFC the preseason game garnered additional importance as the newly-promoted side work towards the coming campaign Leinster League 1. With a new coach and the loss of several key senior players over the summer, Oxford were billed a stern test for Trinity’s new-look side.
One debutant of note included full-back Lauren Devitt, a basketball player for Trinity who only took up rugby this year – a fact only worth mentioning because without doing so, one would never have guessed from her more than able performance that this was her first ever rugby match.
Played out in front of a crowd of about sixty onlookers, and after an afternoon of rain, the air was thick with both anticipation and humidity on a September evening not without autumnal chill.
With the dark outline of the college campus sharpened by the dusky yellow sky behind it, and the pav roaring away barely 100m from the sideline, the stage was set for a classic.
The off-field fever reached the pitch in no time. Within minutes, Trinity were a try up: inside Juliet Byrne crossed over for the first of her two tries, and Eleanor Furlong slotted the conversion.
And five minutes later, Trinity were two tries to the good after bundling over on the left flank from close range. The tight angle proved too much for the conversion but Trinity – 12-0 up against an allegedly well-organised Oxford side but whose feathers were now fully ruffled – had their own tails well and truly up.
Oxford, however – who play their annual Varsity match against Cambridge in front of thousands at 80,000 seater stadium Twickenham – are themselves no strangers to the big occasion. It is therefore perhaps unsurprising that it did it take long for them to regain their composure.
The Blues bounced back a mere six minutes after Trinity’s second try, driving up the field with two penalties in quick succession before crossing the line with a flourish after a few phases.
Nor did the five point deficit following the conversion last long – encapsulating a volatility which proved to be characteristic of this high octane encounter.
A mere minute after the restart, an Oxford assault delved deep into Trinity territory. A tumultuous period of turnovers for both sides ensued just metres out from the Trinity try line, but with the help of Oxford ill-discipline Trinity appeared to have weathered the immediate danger and even pushed their opponents back.
Shortly after this display of defiance, aspirations of impermeability were annihilated. A brilliant break and offload by omnipresent Oxford number 8 and captain, Lauren Webb, assisted a second converted try for the English university.
Their newly acquired 10-14 lead was not to last for the remainder of the half. Nor in fact was an Oxford lead to reappear for the remainder of the game, with Trinity going in at the break 17-14 ahead to cap a frenetic first half.
Oxford rang multiple changes for the second half. In part because this was a preseason game and their players needed minutes under their belt; yet it would also be naive to assume this was not also partly to enforce some solidity to their defensive game given how incisive Trinity’s attacks were in the first half.
Initially, the disruption caused by these substitutions outweighed any benefit of their introduction. A gracefully abrasive break – hallmarked by a delightful infusion of trucking tackles and deceiving defenders with fleeting footwork – by tireless Trinity number 8 and captain Tricia Doyle ultimately led to Megan Collis crashing over the whitewash.
The steadfast Furlong did the honours, and Trinity surged to a 24-14 lead.
After what appeared to be an age of attrition in the midfield, the Oxford subs eventually appeared to click into gear. Yet it was a veteran from the previous half who provided the magic. Another superb break and score by Webb, who was decidedly determined not to be outshone by her similarly impressive opposite number and captain Doyle, dragged Oxford back into the contest.
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