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RUGBY UNION: Dark Blues pay for ragged defence
Esher 32, Oxford University 20
Oxford University’s defence looked patchy as they shipped six tries in their final Varsity Match warm-up last night.
The Dark Blues used 26 players over the course of the 80 minutes in which they produced a real mixed bag against decent opponents.
Oxford captain John Carter was due to start, but withdew late on as a precaution, with head coach James Wade stressing it was “nothing serious”. Jamie Durward came in at No 8 in his place.
Esher’s first team play in the Championship, but have lost all 12 league games this season.
They included one starter from Saturday’s defeat to Bedford in centre Mark Atkinson, plus four who were replacements.
Wing Cassian Bramham-Law kicked Oxford ahead with a third-minute penalty.
The Dark Blues lost stand-in captain Karl Outen to a recurrence of his shoulder injury on six minutes, with Will Rowlands replacing him.
Esher piled on the pressure and were rewarded with a try on the left from No 8 and skipper Shawn Renwick.
More good forward work led to Atkinson putting in a grubber kick for right wing Andy Wright to pounce on for try No 2.
Oxford fought back with wing Sean Morris and flanker Derek Asbun prominent.
Esher had lock Mike Blakeburn sin-binned on 20 minutes, and from the resulting penalty, Oxford produced a tidy line-out, with Asbun powering over for a try converted by Bramham-Law.
Parity didn’t last long as Wright squeezed over on the right wing.
Rowlands was yellow-carded for a professional foul on 29 minutes and Oxford’s woes incresed when Wright finished some great handling by his teammates for his hat-trick try, full back Rob Kirby converting.
The free-scoring continued with Morris leaping high to catch fly half Tom Mitchell’s cross-kick and sprinting in to make it 22-15.
Oxford made six changes at half-time, with replacement scrum half Ruairi O’Donovan and Bramham-Law helping set up a classic counter-attacking try for full back Jon Hudson on 46 minutes.
O’Donovan was then himself replaced on 55 minutes and looked on as Renwick was driven over for Esher’s fifth try.
Substitute prop Jon Direen suffered O’Donovan’s fate, making way for replacement hooker James Wisson, but Oxford had lost the momentum they began the half with.
Esher sealed the spoils late on, with replacement Nic Losardo having just enough speed and strength to go over on the right.
Oxford and Cambridge’s Twickenham squads will officially be announced on Thursday.
Esher: Kirkby, See, Brown (Daniels 53), Atkinson (Mill 41), Wright, Swadling (Davies 53), Garner (Losardo 48), Sweeney, Campbell, Boot (McIntyre 48), Blakeburn, Symons (Hughes 76), Hughes (MacConville 65), Gossington, Renwick (capt).
Oxford University: Hudson, Morris* (Janney 41), Perkins# (Cho 68), H Guinness*, Bramham-Law (Neil 47), Mitchell (Turner 41), Egerton (O’Donovan 41 & J Mather* 55), Macdonald* (Grounds 41), Oliver*, Kane* (Direen 41 & Wisson 64), Outen* (capt) (Rowlands 6), Evans*, Asbun (Law 41), L Mather*, Durward.
* denotes Blue. # denotes international
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