Another college rugby season is upon us and it promises to be the competitive and passionate event is has been for generations. No other college sport demands so much of its competitors and the passion and quality of the matches at every level week in week out truly sets college rugby apart from other intercollegiate sport. From time to time there are accusations that the leagues have been staid and the same teams win year in, year out and yet if we look to the past, teams that were so called unmovables now wallow in the bottom leagues, and former whipping boys rule the roost.
However, It is fair to say that we are in the Keble era, and this year they will be strong once again, looking for continuity after their victory in last year’s First Division. But Pembroke, the great success story of college rugby over the last few seasons, will be keen to finally topple the college rugby giants, having finished runners up in only their second season in the top flight. Victory over the coming rounds will see them truly confirmed as first division fixtures. New boys Balliol have enjoyed a meteoric rise as well, especially considering they finished bottom of Division 4 (then the lowest league) as recently as 2005. They will now have to pull out all the stops to maintain their presence in the top league, as will Univ.
Teddy Hall on the other hand, historically the most successful team in Oxford, will be smarting at their shock relegation last season. Look out for a swift reinstatement to their old stomping ground. Similarly, St. Peters will feel that they have betrayed the strong rugby tradition at the college and will be pressing for reinstallment into the top flight. St. Catz will feel bereaved having lost out on promotion by points difference and will also be contenders for promotion.
Further down Worcester continue their decline and now languish in the third division. Joining them is relegated Wadham who will fancy their chances of promotion and will also be gearing up for the chance to contest the Schneider Cup with current holders Lincoln, newly promoted.
At the very bottom in Division 5, let’s hope that this year the Graduate Barbarians can finally fulfil some of the wonderful promise that their name suggests.
It would be great to see bigger crowds, and I use that term loosely, at games this season. The lonely figure of a single intrepid girlfriend does little to raise the spirits of an under-strength team jogging onto the pitch in the sleet. College rivalry is what makes this league great, and support can swing a match.
On a final note, let’s hope the new season doesn’t have the old problems of cancelled and forfeited matches. Several clubs have found themselves relegated simply because they had to forfeit so many matches due to clashes with lectures and labs. This is Oxford, so far be it from me to suggest people should be skipping lectures, but I hope that the spirit in which the game is traditionally played will be upheld between captains, so that instant rematches can be arranged and passive promotions can be avoided. After all, we owe it to one of the great college leagues to have it properly contested.