TWELVE months after ending a 16-year wait to lift the Oxfordshire Cup, holders Banbury are bidding to break new ground tonight.
Bulls take on Oxford University Greyhounds at Iffley Road (7.45) with their eyes firmly set on retaining the trophy for the first time.
Head coach James Kerr has named eight players who featured in last year’s final in tonight’s starting XV.
One of them is scrum half and vice-captain Ed Phillips – skipper in 2016 when Banbury beat Henley Bulls to be crowned county champions for the first time since 2000.
The 29-year-old, who kicked 13 points on that night, is hoping to be celebrating again this evening after what has been a solid season back in the sixth tier of English rugby.
Phillips said: “We haven’t won it two years on the trot before and we want to defend it anyway, but that’s given us a bit of an extra incentive.
“We feel we’ve done quite well to be where we are in the league – it will be a bonus to win the cup as well.”
Bulls could land the trophy for a fifth time tonight after victories in 1990, 1998, 2000 and 2016.
Phillips said:“It’s roles reversed for us this year.
“We’re assuming we’ll be the bigger, stronger ones and maybe they will look to throw the ball around more. It’s up to us to control possession and put pressure on them.”
He added: “Hopefully they’ve been out partying and playing too much PlayStation, but maybe Oxford University boys are more studious than when I was at university.
“They might be having too many late nights in the library or in the labs.”
Greyhounds’ selection has been hit by the fact the fixture has fallen during the Easter holidays, but the students are still able to pick four Blues.
Oxford are eyeing a county double after the Whippets won the Oxfordshire Shield last month.
However, they will be without captain and Varsity Match record-holder Lewis Anderson, who in 2015 became the first man to feature in six victories against Cambridge.
The loose-head prop broke a metatarsal playing for Sidcup on Saturday, and is forced to watch from the sidelines as Greyhounds bid for a first county triumph since 1976.
Despite victories over Oxford Harlequins and Bicester en route to the final, Anderson believes his team head into the tie as dark horses.
The 26-year-old said: “We’re the underdogs.
“Hopefully it will feel like a home game and we can get some support, but the fact it’s during vacation means we won’t have as many people to cheer us on as we would like.
“But when you’re playing at home it means more to defend your patch.”
Anderson added: “It would be huge to win the county cup and it would cap off a good season for the Hounds.”
Banbury: Joe Mills, Deegan, Manley, Goode, Cracknell, Stoop, E Phillips, M Fox, Ding, Isham, Harden, Brock, Johnson, Jacob Mills, C Phillips. Reps: Saar, Pratt, Sam Mills, Briggs, Brady.
Oxford University Greyhounds: Fraser, Hammond, Strickland, Povey, Barley, Dyer, Kershaw, Calderwood, Miller, Parker, MacGilchrist, Adams, Beaufils, Thornton, Henry. Reps: Symington, Grant, Taylor, Haddock, Livingstone.