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The Varsity Match (rugby)
First meeting1872
Latest meeting2023
Meetings total140
All-time seriesCambridge leads, 65 to 62; 14 draws

The Varsity Match is an annual rugby union fixture played between the universities of Oxford and Cambridge in England. The event began in 1872 with the first men's match, with interruptions only for the two World Wars and the COVID-19 pandemic. From 1921 to 2023 the game was played at Twickenham Stadium, London and usually took place in early December. The game is now played in March and will take place at StoneX Stadium in 2024.

Following the 141st match in 2023, Oxford have 62 wins, and Cambridge maintain the lead with 65; 14 games have ended in draws.[2][3] Varsity matches between Oxford and Cambridge are also arranged in various other sports. For example, the first recorded water polo match in history was played between Oxford and Cambridge in 1891.

The women's rugby Varsity Match was first played in 1988 and has taken place at Twickenham on the same day as the men's game since 2015.[4] Cambridge won the 2019 match, repeating their 8–5 victory of 2018.[3]


The history of The Varsity Match extends back to early 1872. It was a year after the first ever rugby international (Scotland v England). Both Cambridge and Oxford sent officials to meet and arrange a match between each other. At The Parks, Oxford, they played a 20 a-side version of the game (as opposed to today's 15 a-side games; the teams would be set to 15 a-side in 1875[5]). Oxford won the inaugural meeting. In that first match, Oxford wore dark blue jerseys (the same as today, though at some stages they wore white), however, Cambridge played in pink, changing to their blue and white in 1876.[6]

LM Macleod scoring for Cambridge at the 1904 Varsity Match. Cambridge won 15-13

The second Varsity Match in 1873 was played at Parker's Piece in Cambridge, but since then it has always been played in London. The Oval in Kennington staged seven matches, three games were played at Richardson's Field in Blackheath and another Blackheath venue, Rectory Field, hosted four games before Queen's Club in Kensington became the regular venue from 1887 to 1920.[1] The 1878 and 1879 matches were postponed due to fog.

In 1919, the players were apparently invisible due to fog. In 1921 the match was moved to the Rugby Football Union's famous home ground, Twickenham.[1] The official Varsity Match was not played during wartime although a series of matches were played during the Second World War, resulting in nine wins for Cambridge, two wins for Oxford and one draw. All these games were played either at Oxford or Cambridge.[7] The hundredth match in 1981 was played at Twickenham with a three to four-inch layer of snow covering the pitch; it had snowed overnight and the snow could not be removed in time for the game.[8]

In 2013 Oxford's Sam Egerton was sent off for an off-the-ball incident and became the first player to be dismissed in the history of the match.[9] Oxford's 43–6 win in 2014 was the biggest victory in the history of the fixture[10] and gave them a fifth successive victory for the first time ever.[11] Cambridge have recorded five wins in a row on three separate occasions, 1972–76, 1980–84 and 1994–98.[12] Oxford's win in the 2015 match was their sixth successive win in the fixture, a record for either side.[13]

In 2021, the event was rebranded as The Varsity Matches in order to reflect the continued integration of the women's fixture.[14]

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the 139th match was postponed to March 2021.[15] It was then further postponed to 4 July 2021 and relocated to Welford Road Stadium, Leicester.[16] The 140th match was played at Twickenham in April 2022.[17] The 2024 matches were played at StoneX Stadium.[18]


There was not a referee until the 1881 match, when Mr H. H. Taylor officiated. Prior to this each game had two umpires, one from each university.[19] The record number of appearances is held by former RFU secretary Rowland Hill along with Welshman Gwynne Walters both with seven games.[19] Other notable International referees who have controlled this fixture are Englishmen G. H. Harnett (6) Cyril Gadney (6) and H.L. Ashmore (5), along with Welshmen Albert Freethy (6) and Clive Norling (5). Up until the start of the professional era, one of the unique aspects of the Varsity game was that the referee was not appointed by the RFU but agreed upon and invited by the two captains. This tradition ended after the 1997–98 season, along with that of the previous year's captains returning to act as touch judges (a continuation of the original custom of each university appointing an umpire), when the RFU Referees' committee decided that touch judges could only be qualified officials and that the RFU should appoint the referee.[19] Now there is also a television match official.[6]


In 2001 the MMC Trophy replaced the Bowring Bowl, established in 1976, as the prize.[20][21] 2005 was the last year Marsh & McLennan Companies (MMC) sponsored the match.[22] Subsequent sponsors have been Lehman Brothers from 2006 to 2007,[23] Nomura Group from 2008 to 2011[23] and Pol Roger and Glenfarclas distillery since 2012.[24] The clothing manufacturer Jack Wills sponsored the clothing until 2014[25] Investment bank Jefferies Group were announced as the title sponsor for The Varsity Matches 2022.[26]

Notable participants

Many of those who have played in the Varsity Match have gone on to win international honours; a number of others played in the Match after earning international honours. These include:[27]

1987 Rugby World Cup winning All Blacks captain David Kirk played in the 1987 and 1988 Varsity Matches after ending his international career to take up a Rhodes Scholarship at Oxford. Brian Smith represented Australia in the 1987 Rugby World Cup and played in the 1988 and captained 1989 Varsity match for Oxford, before continuing his international career with Ireland 1990–1991.[27]

Former Wallaby Joe Roff played in the 2006 and 2007 Varsity Matches for Oxford after retiring from professional rugby,[27] captaining the side in 2007. Five former or current internationals played in the 2008 Varsity Match. The most notable were retired All Black hooker Anton Oliver for Oxford[31] and former Wallaby lock Dan Vickerman for Cambridge, with Oxford also fielding current Canada flanker Stan McKeen and Cambridge fielding former All Black centre Mark Ranby and former United States scrum-half Doug Rowe.[32] Vickerman captained Cambridge in the 2009 Match, in which McKeen and Rowe also played.[33]

For the 2015 match, Wales and British & Irish Lions centre Jamie Roberts played for Cambridge University as he studied for his master's degree in medical science at the university.[34]


Results and information available on Varsity Match website [35]


By total wins

Total matches Cambridge victories Oxford victories Draws
141 65 62 14


By total wins

Total matches Cambridge victories Oxford victories Draws
38 15 23 1

See also


  1. ^ a b c "On This Day December 8". Retrieved 3 January 2013.
  2. ^ Oxford cruise past Cambridge 34-7 to win 139th Men’s Varsity Rugby Match on by Jack Wadding & Cameron White, 4 July 2021
  3. ^ a b "Varsity matches: Cambridge beat Oxford 15-0 in men's game; Cambridge women win 8-5". BBC Sport. 12 December 2019.
  4. ^ Hands, David (5 December 2015). "The Varsity Match 2015: Pioneers get their day in the Twickenham sun". The Independent. Archived from the original on 20 June 2022. Retrieved 8 December 2016.
  5. ^ "When 20 men became 15". ESPN. Retrieved 14 December 2014.
  6. ^ a b "Varsity match winners since 1872". Planet Rugby. Archived from the original on 15 December 2006. Retrieved 11 December 2006.
  7. ^ Jenkins, Vivian (1983). Rothmans Rugby Yearbook 1982–83. Rothmans Publications Ltd. p. 146. ISBN 0-907574-13-0.
  8. ^ Jenkins, Vivian (1983). Rothmans Rugby Yearbook 1982–83. Rothmans Publications Ltd. pp. 143–145. ISBN 0-907574-13-0.
  9. ^ Mitchell, Brendon. "Varsity Match 2013: Oxford 33–15 Cambridge". BBC Sport. Retrieved 12 December 2013.
  10. ^ Mitchell, Brendon. "Varsity Match 2014: Oxford 43–6 Cambridge". BBC Sport. Retrieved 11 December 2014.
  11. ^ "Oxford claim fifth straight Varsity win in record rout". ESPN. Retrieved 11 December 2014.
  12. ^ "Oxford v Cambridge: Varsity Match at Twickenham boasts two ex-Sherborne School pupils". Archived from the original on 11 December 2015. Retrieved 11 December 2014.
  13. ^ Mitchell, Brendon. "Men's Varsity: Oxford 12–6 Cambridge". BBC Sport. Retrieved 10 December 2015.
  14. ^ "The Varsity Matches on LinkedIn: #ProudToBeAmateur #oxfordrugby #cambridgerugby".
  15. ^ "Oxford and Cambridge agree to Varsity match switch". The Varsity Match. Retrieved 13 November 2020.
  16. ^ "Tigers to host iconic Varsity Matches". Leicester Tigers. Retrieved 29 March 2021.
  17. ^ Bullivant, Tom (2 April 2022). "Oxford narrowly defeat 14-man Cambridge in Men's Varsity Rugby Match". Retrieved 30 January 2023.
  18. ^ Keating, Jessica (13 October 2023). "A NEW HOME FOR THE VARSITY RUGBY MATCHES". University of Cambridge. Retrieved 12 November 2023.
  19. ^ a b c John Griffiths (2 January 2013). "Varsity Matches and autumn tries".
  20. ^ Hands, David (10 December 2002). "Story of the Blues still more than academic". The Times. Retrieved 26 July 2009.
  21. ^ Bale, Steve (12 December 1995). "Amateur ritual with City appeal". The Independent. Retrieved 26 July 2009.
  22. ^ "MMC Varsity Match Team Line Ups". Rugby Football Union. 28 November 2005. Retrieved 26 July 2009.[permanent dead link]
  23. ^ a b Amy Wilson (21 October 2008). "Varsity match sponsorship picked up by Nomura after Lehman collapse". The Daily Telegraph.
  24. ^ Gabriel Savage (14 November 2012). "Pol Roger and Glenfarclas sponsor Varsity Match 2012".
  25. ^ "The Varsity Match – Partners". Archived from the original on 11 December 2013. Retrieved 11 December 2013.
  26. ^ "Jefferies to Sponsor the Varsity Matches".
  27. ^ a b c "The Varsity Match: Famous Blues". Rugby Football Union. 29 July 2008. Archived from the original on 14 December 2008. Retrieved 26 January 2009.
  28. ^ "Mark Robinson". All Blacks. Retrieved 26 November 2013.
  29. ^ Hewett, Chris (10 December 1997). "Rugby Union: Varsity match underlines dearth of English talent". Independent. Archived from the original on 20 June 2022. Retrieved 26 November 2013.
  30. ^ "Faces in the Crowd," Sports Illustrated, 27 January 1975. Retrieved 8 December 2020
  31. ^ "Anton Oliver's new game". The Sunday Star-Times. 18 May 2008. Archived from the original on 13 September 2012. Retrieved 22 May 2008.
  32. ^ Wildman, Rob (4 December 2008). "Oxford v Cambridge Varsity to star All Black Anton Oliver and Australia's Dan Vickerman". The Daily Telegraph. Retrieved 11 December 2008.
  33. ^ "Dan Vickerman will captain Cambridge University in the 2009 Nomura Varsity Match against Oxford". The Daily Telegraph. 3 December 2009. Retrieved 6 December 2009.
  34. ^ "Jamie Roberts to play for Cambridge in Varsity match". BBC. 17 June 2015. Retrieved 23 June 2015.
  35. ^ "Past Scores". The Varsity Match.
  36. ^ "Derby Day 2019". Derby Day 2019. Archived from the original on 28 February 2021. Retrieved 21 February 2021.