Cambridge Women's Rugby Blues take on Oxford in the Varsity match at Twickenham on Saturday, and four Fitz players - Emily Bell, Colette Russell, Laura Vass and Robyn Halcrow - are involved.
(Update - Cambridge retained the trophy - see this match report for more).
Due to Covid, the previous year’s Varsity match took place in Leicester. It saw Colette and Emily star in the defeat of Oxford. Emily was the only fresher to compete in that match, yet this is her seventh season of rugby.
“I’m quite rare among our squad in having played rugby for a while before university. Being a young full-back, having to catch those high balls - it is a bit of pressure. But I enjoy pressure.”
Vice-captain Colette had previously played hockey before making the switch to rugby three years ago. "I'm a bit nervous to be honest, given that it's Twickenham. We’ve been training two or three times a week, plus gym sessions, and one match per week. It’s a lot of time. But it’s something like this which makes university manageable," adds Colette, a final-year medical student. "It’s that release.”
The teams have faced each other twice this season in the BUCS Championship, with Cambridge winning the first 15-0 and Oxford claiming a 12-10 victory in the second. For Laura and Robyn, it's their first year playing rugby union but they feel ready for the big one.
“It all feels a bit surreal, we’re so excited,” says Laura, also a medical student. “I knew Colette beforehand and knew Robyn from College, and they both encouraged me to give it a go. I thought, why not? I came to preseason which was really enjoyable, and then just stuck at it."
“People are really there for each other in this club,” adds Robyn, a veterinary student. “I came back from a really big injury, and this February was my first time playing rugby union, having played rugby league at home. Tackling and passing are the same but lineouts, mauls, rucks, scrums – they don’t happen in rugby league. But now we’ve seen the selection I’ve felt myself relax. I feel really happy looking forward to the game now. It’s a really great group.”
The Fitz players hail from different parts of England: Laura, who has Hungarian roots is from Cambridge, Colette is from Lincolnshire, Emily from South London and Robyn from the Lake District.
“It’s such a family vibe,” says Emily, an MML student. “My social life, my physical life, my mental wellbeing, revolves around CURUFC. Rugby provides me with so much. I need it massively, I couldn’t imagine doing academic stuff and not doing rugby at all. I love it.”
“Everybody’s got your back,” Robyn adds. “You get so much support while you’re injured. There’s huge respect in the group. And the social side of it is quite wholesome."
“That’s one of the best things about women’s rugby – it’s really inclusive,” Colette adds. “It’s got people from all walks of life. You come together and form a team in which you literally put your bodies on the line for everybody else. There’s a team spirit you can’t equal – it’s made me a huge advocate for women moving to rugby, hence why I recruited Laura! And here we are, about to play at Twickenham. Not even the England women’s rugby team get to play there in the Women’s Six Nations."
This year’s Varsity matches commemorates the 150th anniversary of the first rugby match between Oxford and Cambridge. Tickets start at £27.24.