It’s been six years since the University of Portsmouth lifted the Varsity Cup and considering the comfortable nature of the University of Southampton’s consistent run of victories since that hallowed campaign, the student media hub is reserved as Showdown Sunday begins to take shape. After yesterday’s gym and trampoline and American football fixtures, both of which were won by Southampton, the visitors found themselves going into the Sunday with a 12-point advantage. With four points for a win, the three-win buffer was comfortable but not unassailable for Portsmouth who would be looking to find strength from the home crowd.
And it was clearly Portsmouth that were enjoying the brisk, morning air in and around the bustling central hub of HMS Temeraire and the St. Paul’s Sports Hall. Portsmouth were dominant in the rowing, taking both fixtures in 1-0 wins as well as narrowly winning the ultimate frisbee 13-10. In the netball intramural it was shared spoils with Portsmouth’s intramural 1 winning 27-17 before intramural 2 lost 10-41. Going into the middle of the morning, Portsmouth had destroyed the deficit. Having been 12 points down, the score was now tied 38-38. Did Portsmouth dare dream of sporting Valhalla at 10.30 in the morning?
Perhaps they were right to; the morning belonged to Portsmouth. Dramatic victories in the men’s football and the rowing added to the early morning momentum, with Portsmouth finding themselves in the lead. A 14-0 victory for the rugby union 3rds just after 11am sent Portsmouth into a 12-point lead, meaning that since play started a startling 24-point swing had occurred. From being 12 points behind, Portsmouth were now 12 points up.
With further victories in the rowing and two back-to-back scalps in the cricket, Portsmouth increased their lead to 20 points. But of course, Southampton were not willing to let their record of five consecutive Varsity Cup wins slip away into the morning fog. Wins in the archery and ultimate frisbee, the latter of which was incorrectly recorded as a Portsmouth victory initially, reduced the difference to 12 once more. But victories in the pole dancing reinstated that 20-point lead as lunchtime approached. Just about halfway through the day and Portsmouth had already surpassed last year’s total point score of 72. It had been a remarkable morning for the men and women in purple.
Nervousness was beginning to creep into the Southampton student radio broadcast, noting the impressive performances by Portsmouth in the lesser-followed sports such as rowing and pole dancing. Further wins in the hockey, cricket, and football sent Portsmouth into triple figures before lunch, rattling the Southampton contingent even more. We were entering the crucial part of the day now. The pressure was increasing parallel to the temperatures. The desire to end a six-year wait for Varsity glory was becoming a real possibility for Portsmouth.
The Southampton student media team were battering their calculators now, desperate to know how many points Southampton needed to retain their trophy. With 35 fixtures remaining, Southampton needed to win 21 matches to reign victorious. A difficult task but not an impossible one by any stretch. The comeback began in the men’s futsal, with a 3-5 victory. It was an encouraging first result of the afternoon, but could Portsmouth keep their cool?
Victories in the tennis and and big wins in the men’s and women’s hockey suddenly ate away at the lead, reducing it to 4 points. And that would be the point where everything crumbled for Portsmouth. A flurry of wins put Southampton in the driving seat once more, with Southampton dominating the afternoon much like Portsmouth did in the morning. The late afternoon saw a big momentum swing, with Southampton hitting their stride after the wobbles of the morning. Southampton won 17 of the 25 afternoon fixtures, whilst Portsmouth only won 6 matches in the same period. It was an unfortunate fall, following the promise of that impressive morning.
And with Portsmouth now winless since 2013, perhaps it came down to pressure. As the years pass and 2013’s triumph becomes a more distant memory, it’s understandable for Portsmouth to feel the pressure in the latter stages of such an important competition as the hunger for that elusive title grows. But considering last year’s dominant display by Southampton, the final score of 146-178 in the 2019 edition of Varsity will be encouraging for Portsmouth going forward. Furthermore, the retainment of the Intramural Cup will be another positive for Portsmouth and will only fuel the determination to go one step further in 2020.
Photo Credit: Sarah Hopkins