Ex-BRA pupil Dass' joy after taking Cambridge to glory
Former Belfast Royal Academy pupil Daniel Dass was the toast of Cambridge last night after leading the Light Blues to their first victory in the Varsity Match at Twickenham since 2009.
Oxford arrived with a record six successive wins under their belt and despite a superb run of four wins in a row in November, Dass' side were still cast as underdogs. But the former Ulster age grade player, whose home club is Belfast Harlequins, inspired his side to a famous 23-18 victory.
"It has been a tough 364 days since last year and I'm tired and emotional. It is just fantastic to finally get the win with a team like this," said Dass (below), who had been a loser in 2014 and 2015. "It is easy to come back each year if you are winning, but to keep coming back after losing for six years is unbelievable.
"We worked as hard as we did last year and, in the end, it was just a few tiny technical things that made the difference. Only conceding three points early on when they were coming at us was huge and the intercept try gave us another boost."
Dass had Royal School Armagh and Queens' University product Jonathan Dixon alongside him in the Cambridge pack, while former Trinity College, Dublin flanker Brian du Toit picked up the Alastair Hignell Medal as man of the match.
It was Cambridge who found the breakthrough three minutes before half-time. Mike Phillips pounced on scrum-half Henry de Barker's loose pass in a complicated midfield wrap around move and stormed in at the posts.
The second half turned into a breathtaking end-to-end battle. Minutes after the re-start, Basil Strang closed the deficit to one point with a superb penalty from 45 metres. But Oxford were making errors and conceded four penalties in a 10-minute spell. Fraser Gillies converted two of them to extend Cambridge's lead to seven.
The Dark Blues threatened a quick response when Matt Greiger burst onto Henry Hughes' pass out wide, but the fullback was eventually bundled into touch.
Oxford levelled the scores when Tom Stileman's pop-pass led to Hughes sliding over. Strang added the conversion before Gillies squandered an opportunity to put Cambridge back on top.
But when Strang was caught not releasing moments later, Gillies made no mistake to put the Light Blues ahead by three points with 10 minutes to play. Strang skewed a chance to level.
Cambridge then went in for the kill and a brilliant cross-field kick by Gillies let Lare Egorbogbo release Rory Triniman and allow him to roll out of a tackle and in for a try. Gillies added a touchline conversion.
Ed David dived over for an Oxford try in the corner to set up a tense finale, but Strang's missed conversion meant they trailed by five and Cambridge ultimately recorded a deserved win.