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BUCS UTC National Round 1 – Competition Report

Oxford University finishes in their highest ever national position and secures their spot in the division one tournament. Two players invited to England under-20s training squad.

On Saturday, 9th March 2024, the Oxford University Touch Rugby Club travelled to Nottingham, England to compete in the first national round of the British Universities and Colleges Sport (BUCS) University Touch Championships (UTC). This round marked the return of the BUCS season after a series of cancellations due to poor weather and unplayable pitches. With the addition of new teams and universities, this event also saw the largest ever domestic University competition in the world. The Blues, Oxford University’s first team, finished thirteenth (13th), which is a historical high for the club. A cherry on top, two players received invitations to the England under-20s training squad following their successful performances.


A strong showing in the regional round on 25th November 2023 placed the Blues in the division one tournament, which included the previous national champions, the reigning regional champions, as well as more Cup and Plate contenders. The competition was tough, but that was cause for excitement. “Let’s compete,” said one Blues player.


The first match was a bit of a stinker. The Blues fell to their regional rivals, Birmingham 1. Despite the disappointing result, this match was an important setback to propel the remainder of the day. Coach Augustine McMahon and co-captains Haley Flower and Dominic Shaw re-focused the team on their energy and synergy. Delays in the national season meant this weekend’s team included new players, in new pods, in new positions, and at new competition levels. The leadership group primed the team during this first match, which set up success for the rest of the day.


The Blues found their pace in the second match, despite falling to the regional champions Surrey 1. The defensive performance in this game was spectacular. It significantly frustrated Surrey 1’s “attack into space” style of play. The second half saw a draw in the scores – a massive improvement since the Blues’ last friendly match against Surrey 1 on 17th February 2024.


The third match against Manchester 1 was simultaneously the most disappointing and promising: disappointing because a win was well-within reach; promising because of the balanced competition. Manchester 1 edged a victory after narrowly missed scoring opportunities by the Blues. Whilst Manchester exploited a few open channels in the Oxford defence, the Blues fought hard. Most of the match was spent in the opposition’s pressure zone, four times with breakaway scoring threats. This match ended the group stages and sent Oxford to the Plate quarterfinals.


The Plate quarter final was a nail-biter. The Blues conceded to Durham 1 by one point. Durham 1 would eventually go on to defeat Manchester 1 to win the Plate trophy. The Blues’ performance in this game was strong. However, sometimes the nature of shortened, 20-minute games are untimely results. The Blues left this match hungry, knowing that one platform, one penalty, or one more minute could have changed the tide of the game.


This hunger fuelled a hard-earned victory in their fifth match against Exeter 3. The win was clear and convincing. Not only this but tries were scored in every attacking channel and notably, the Blues caused many unforced errors by their opposition. One player reflected on the win, “we believed in ourselves; we were confident.”


The final match of the day was reminiscent of The Varsity Match the week before. The Blues met Cambridge 1 to determine the 13th place spot. In a moment of déjà vu, the Blues shoed the Tabs. This time, there was no drop-off or sudden death -- just a clean win on regular criteria.


A few points are worth mentioning. The division one competition is tough. Last year, Oxford 1 consistently won the division two tournament. And yet, the Blues are worthy of the pace and the standard of their promotion. Of course, stronger competition can translate to disappointing results or heart-wrenching games, but that’s the nature of competitive excellence. The second point is that the Blues are a “dangerous team,” according to one tournament official. They are one point away from a Plate trophy and BUCS points, which is where they’ve set their sights for the final round on 23rd March 2024. Aryemis Brown, the club’s president, reflected on this, “Oxford’s always a good bet.”


The top try-scorers were Joseph Zhong (3) and Samuel Thompson (3). Most Valuable Player nominations by the opposition were earned by seven players. Three Blues debutants earned their first tries. A cherry on top, Blues middles Samuel Thompson and Wyn Garner received invitations to the England under-20s training squad following their strong performances on the day. Our try scorers, debutants, and newest under-20s would collectively tell you that the day resulted from the heart and energy of every player on the pitch. This team has every right to be unbelievably and unreservedly proud of their performance.


In a word, the day was “grand,” said head coach Augustine McMahon.


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