Saturday 4th March saw the 88th Varsity Judo Match being held in Cambridge. Four trophies were up for grabs, with each side entering a University Men’s A & B team, Women’s team, and a City team. The hall was bustling with spectators, with hundreds more watching via the online live stream.
Prior to the fights, Cambridge’s Dean and François demonstrated a range of traditional kata techniques. Rather than battling against each other to win a match, kata sees the judoka cooperatively execute a number of throws in a traditional manner and form. Kata is a requirement for all those who wish to become a black belt; having achieved his 1st Dan shortly before Varsity, Dean demonstrated his knowledge and ability in this presentation.
Keeping with tradition, the City team were first onto the mat. Dean led the opening fight, being caught for ippon with an unfortunate uchi-mata. Next was Giovanni who, after evading another uchi-mata, brought his opponent to the ground. A skilful roll and pin meant that osaekomi was called and he held his opponent for the full 20 seconds to claim the win. Two more fights went in Oxford’s favour before it was the turn of the Cambridge City captain, Lee Beamiss. Just 20 seconds into the fight, Lee threw his opponent for waza-ari with a well-placed o-goshi, and moved straight into ne-waza. The Dark Blue fighter struggled to move from City captain’s tightly held kuzure-kami-shiho-gatame and after 15 seconds Lee secured his win. The following fights saw further victories for Cambridge, with Matt holding off his opponent for the entire five minutes, Greg launching his former student for ippon with a beautifully executed piece of ashi-waza, and Imogen securing her win with a yuko. The City fights ended with the score reading 5-3 to Cambridge, meaning the trophy was proudly reclaimed from Oxford to Cambridge!
Men’s B Match
With the City victory secured, the university teams stepped up to the mat. Nick Sloan began for the B team against a BUCS gold medallist. Starting strong, Nick launched a number of attacks before unfortunately being caught with an uchi-mata. Enrico Ghorzi followed, scoring both a waza-ari and yuko, only to be dealt a hansoku-make after three and a half minutes for a risky head dive. Two more fights went to the Dark Blues before Will Grant stepped up for Cambridge. Will fought an opponent much heavier than himself – a consequence of the Varsity rules, which see judoka fight the opponent closest to their weight rather than in strict weight categories – but nevertheless brought his opponent to the ground a number of times. Despite only being a white belt, Will fought off countless attacks from his opponent, lasting well over three minutes before being countered for ippon. With Cambridge 6-0 down going into the final fight, Max was determined to not let Oxford off with a clean sweep. It took just five seconds for the Light Blue to throw his opponent for waza-ari, and he finished him off with a text-book kesa-gatame hold. Despite the loss, the Men’s B squad put in a fantastic effort against a much experienced team and should be proud of their performance.
Following successive victories in previous years, the women were eager to defend their title. First up was white belt Louise against a black belt from Oxford. She fought passionately to hold her opponent off for three and a half minutes before being caught with a well-timed drop morote-seoi-nage. The next fight went rapidly Oxfrod’s way with the Women’s Captain, Sophie, also being thrown for ippon. Marine was next onto the mat and, appearing determined, fought for a high grip against her opponent. After being brought to the floor, Marine managed to resist a strangle being placed onto her before eventually succumbing to a tai-otoshi. The final fight for the Women’s team was fresher Rachel Lodge who, following the Men’s B team before her, refused to allow Oxford take the trophy without at least one Cambridge win. Just 30 seconds into the fight, Rachel threw her opponent hard with a well-executed osotogari, securing her victory. Sadly, the result meant that the Sake bowl went home with Oxford this year. The women’s team fought hard against a much more experienced Oxford team and put in impressive performances unfazed by the grade difference in the bouts. This gives a solid base to build on for the team to come back stronger next year to claim back the trophy.
Men’s A Match
The last fights of the day were the University Men’s A team. As in previous years, it was disappointing to see the weight difference in Oxford’s favour. To add to the strain, the Light Blues were facing a number of international fighters representing a total of five countries. Nevertheless, the A team were unfazed, knowing that they too are capable judoka who had trained hard for the day. The first two fights went to Oxford, with both Jack and Harry being caught with sacrifice throws. Alex Paturel was next to represent Cambridge and faced Peter Miles: a GB squad player who has previously won gold medals at British and European championships as well as a bronze at the World Cadet Championship. Alex began by working for a strong grip and deflected a number of seoi-nage and uchi-mata attacks. With the fight looking like it could go either way, Alex attacked with an o-uchi-gari, but a swift counter-attack by Miles secured the ippon. Hilario followed Alex, facing Gregor Cremosnik. Hilario certainly proved to be tougher than his trousers, which ripped two minutes into the fight and had to be swapped, but he was ultimately pinned and unable to escape beneath the 80kg+ Swiss judoka. Three more wins shortly followed for Oxford. However, the Cambridge team were more concerned for well-being of one fighter, Simon, who’s determination reached (quite literally) dizzying heights as he was rather knocked unconscious by a strangle than capitulate to the Dark Blues. Medics and judoka rushed to Simon’s aid and he swiftly recovered on the side-line. The Men’s A team trophy was thus retained by Oxford.
To conclude, huge congratulations go to the Cambridge City team on their victory. Despite the defeats for the others, every Cambridge judoka gave it their all and put on a valiant display against a much stronger and more experienced opponent. Many of the fights could have been won by either side and the hours of hard work, sweat and determination truly shone through on the day. It is encouraging to see such work paying off and our players develop in both skill and ability. Cambridge left in good spirit and with their heads held high. With Oxford losing a number of their key fighters next year, and Cambridge more determined than ever, victory is well within sight in 2018.