10 DECEMBER 1948, Page 11



Twickenham, Tuesday.

WHEN I was an undergraduate at Oxford, I found it soothing to despair of Cambridge. Cambridge beat us at everything ; so we let it be known that we only played games for fun, whereas Cambridge men were practically professionals. On a secluded island in the middle of some swamp, we said, they came down to breakfast each morning, slapped each other on the back and said "Marvellous." Thereafter they spent thee-day exhaling fitness of body, with never a thought to ripple its way across the shallows of their minds. That, at least, was how we spoke in public. But in private we came near to despairing of ourselves. After one terrible Varsity Match, when Cambridge's Welsh outsides had swept round us like a whirlwind and left us trailing thirty points behind, one Oxford player only just managed to reach the dressing-room before breaking into uncontrollable sobs. When, next year we trailed behind again—and again by thirty points—the time-honoured Oxford toast of " 'Tab-slogging " took on a hollow ring indeed.

All that is twenty years ago, now. For many who went to Tues- day's match at Twickenham, undergraduate days may well have been twice as long ago. Yet on this day for me, and I believe for all, time seems to go back until you feel again the same bias and the same fears. In the crowded carriage from Waterloo there was an elderly, judge-like man. For today, and, today only, he had allowed himself to wear a tie which was not black. His tie was dark blue. He could not open his Times because his neighbours were squeezed against his elbows. He could only stare severely to his front ; and it was soon obvious that what he saw in front was distasteful. For the man opposite was wearing not merely a light blue tie, but also a light blue rosette and, worst of all, some light blue ribbon in his hat. I could see what was passing in the old man's mind. He was thinking, " I always said these Cambridge fellows were cads." But the habit of a life-time prevented him from saying anything aloud to a stranger until we reached Twickenham station. Then he leaned forward, tapped the light blue on the knee and said : " I suppose, sir, that this afternoon you will be shouting for Chelsea." After that the old man would go home with at least moral victory in his heart. But, in fact, he went home with some- thing more substantial, provided his heart did not give out before the final whistle. For this great game just managed to end with an Oxford win.

At half time Oxford, with the wind behind them, were eleven points up—and might well have been more. Their big forwards, as expected, got more than their share of the ball and some of their outsides played with unexpected brilliance. First, five minutes from the start a loose Cambridge kick dropped into the hands of Hofmeyr, standing near half way. Hofmeyr steadied himself, took deliberate aim and dropped for goal. The referee and linesman, of course, were in mid-field and had no hope of reaching the posts to see whether the soaring ball in fact soared over the bar. But one Cambridge player running like mad just got there in time and threw up his arms with impulsive generosity. So that was 3—o. Fifteen minutes later, the ball shot out of the Oxford scrum to Hofmeyr on the half-way line. Hofmeyr took it at top pace, sold a dummy and ran dead straight for twenty-five yards. Then he passed to full-back Stewart, who had come into the three-quarter line. Stewart drove off his right foot and cut diagonally to the left while all Cambridge stood locked in wrong-footed impotence. Almost on the line, Stewart passed to Gill, who scored, and when Stewart himself converted with an in-off-the-post, that was 8—o. A little later Colin van Ryneveld broke through and passed to Cannel, who scored.. And that was r t--o.

Where• were Cambridge all this time ? Their forwards were play- ing finely in the loose and holding some of •their own in the tight. But Glyn Davies, their bright Welsh international star, of the twinkling feet and the swaying body, was having one of those days. He fumbled his passes. He held on too long. Nothing went right for him. And nothing went right for the Cambridge captain, Kimberley. So in spite of brilliant bursts by Smith in the centre, and steady, slogging play by Dorward at scrum half, the Cambridge backs had little chance to do anything except defend—and without a superb performance by the full-back, Holmes, their defence could not have kept the score down to a mere eleven points. Such is the cussedness and contrariness of human nature, I felt sorry for Cambridge at half-time. I was soon to feel sorry for myself.

After half-time Cambridge took over the wind and with it, for long periods, the game. Their forwards began to get the ball regularly, and Dorward, from being merely workmanlike, became inspired. Best of all, Glyn Davies struck one of those flashes which the Welsh selectors had come to see and went right through on his own from a reverse pass by Dorward. That was 3 points, and Holmes made it 5. Five minutes later and, with only fourteen men, Cam- bridge made it through a long-distance penalty by Holmes, and at once swept back on the Oxford line. Another try at this point and they would have won. The heavy Oxford pack was tiring under the terrific pace ; and Stewart, their full-back, in trying to help them with long kicks, regularly failed to find touch and allowed the brilliant Holmes to set his backs on the attack again. My defences, too, were cracking. Down below some Cambridge men were doing a Campus yell, and I began composing aloof sentences about how the " any-gum-chum " urchins of the war years were now, obviously, Cambridge undergraduates.

But in spite of everything the score did not come. Once with two men outside him and the Oxford line at their mercy, a Cam- bridge centre tried to burst through on his own—and was crushed. Once again, he held on just too long and saw his wing swept into touch right on the corner flag. Then it happened. A Cambridge pass was dropped on the Oxford 25 and at once the Oxford centre van Ryneveld had got his foot to the ball and booted it up field. He followed up so fast that he almost over-ran it. For an agonising second, with two opponents almost beside him, he seemed to have trouble with his feet. Those feet looked, and may well have felt, like lead as he scooped with them at the ball. But they got to it, and the ball shot away right over the Cambridge try line. Then it was just a race, one Oxford man against two from Cambridge— and Oxford won. That really was the end. For though Cambridge attacked again right through to the final whistle, I found myself wishing that they would score. And if an Oxford man is actually wishing Cambridge well, you can be sure that Cambridge has obviously already lost.

And so tonight I have drunk a toast to "'Tab-slogging " once again. But I haven't enjoyed it as much as I expected. You see, though I would not say this to anyone else, I think Cambridge deserved to win. Perhaps I'm getting old.