From The Vaults

20 March 2023
#FromTheVaults - 1909 Varsity Match

Between 1906 and 1911, Oxford were unbeaten in six Varsity Matches, having a particularly talented pool of students from which to choose. Among those students was Ronnie Poulton, who arrived at Balliol College from Rugby School in 1908. In his first term at Oxford, Poulton played several games for the university team but he missed out on selection for the famous Varsity Match, perhaps being deemed too unpredictable for his own teammates - he had a deceptive style of running, 'swinging the ball from side to side as if he were rhapsodising on a concertina, compelling the defence to follow him spell-bound' (The Times). One bemused opponent said: 'How can one stop him when his head goes one way, his arms another and his legs keep straight on?' The England selectors took a chance on him, however, and he was called up to play against Ireland, Scotland and France that season. For the 1909 Varsity Match, Oxford found a place for him on the left wing. Such was his impact on the game, it would come to be known as 'Poulton's Match'.

The match took place on 11th December 1909 at the Queen's Club, Kensington. Oxford fielded a particularly strong team - all seven of their backs were already internationally capped, or would go on to receive their first cap that season - and they put on an accomplished performance. With this ball, Poulton scored an extraordinary five tries, which remains a record for either side in a Varsity Match. Spare a thought for Oxford's Hugh Martin, whose impressive tally of four tries that day has been somewhat overshadowed by Poulton's achievement! Their haul of nine tries resulted in a final score of 35-3. Remarkably, Oxford had played with only fourteen men for most of the match after one of the centres broke a collarbone early in the first half.

Poulton played in two further Varsity Matches. In 1910, he scored two tries - one that drew them level, and one that sealed their win, 23-18. In 1911, he was rewarded with the Oxford captaincy. In the first ten minutes, he scored one try and created two more, before a torn hamstring forced him to take a backseat.

The 1909 match ball and Ronnie's Oxford cap are both on long-term loan to the museum - we are extremely grateful to the lenders for their continued support. Both objects will be on display in the West Stand at Twickenham throughout the Varsity Match weekend.

The Varsity Match returns to Twickenham Stadium on Saturday 25 March 2023. Book your match tickets and entry to the World Rugby Museum.