THE STORY of last season’s college rugby campaign was undoubtedly the unstoppable rise of Keble from nobodies to undisputed champions of the university.
After claiming both the Third and Second Division titles in 2005-06, Peter Bolton’s side saw off all comers to win both the Michaelmas and Hilary First Division crowns before seeing off Teddy Hall in the Cuppers final to cap a remarkable year.
What is certain is that the likes of Hall will not want to see another college dominate in the same way this season.
Although they tasted victory in the Sevens tournament, the Teddies will be hurting from last year’s trophy drought and looking to make an immediate impact this time around. Whether they will have sufficient strength in depth to compensate for the loss of Blues and 21s players this term is another question.
Also trying to make amends for the previous season will be St. Peter’s who find themselves promoted back to the First Division after being comprehensively relegated last Michaelmas. An epic Cuppers victory over St. Catherine’s last year will have given them the belief that they can dominate the top flight again, but they’ll have to wait until third week for what will surely be a hard-fought encounter against arch-rivals Hall.
Catz have the ability to cause anyone problems and will hope that their never-ending injury crisis of last year isn’t repeated. St. Hugh’s and Magdalen will start as relegation favourites, but expectations are more than likely to be overturned in what is sure to be an especially competitive division  this Michaelmas.
Division Two promises to be equally tight, with four out of the six sides having played top flight rugby in recent seasons.
Newly promoted Christ Church are the side to watch, however, riding the crest of a double promotion wave that has given them belief in their ability to reach the First Division this time around. “Our aim is to reach the top division if not this term, then in Hilary” said club secretary Jack Marsh. “We’re a strong, powerful side that builds our game around the forwards and solidity at the set play.
“The season opener against Exeter should be a real crunch game, as they just pipped us to the Third Division championship in a tight game last Hilary. With experienced players like Chris Perfect, Duncan Chiah and Chris Hughes in the ranks, we’re determined to get promotion at some stage this year.”
To achieve that goal Christ Church will have to make their way past Worcester and LMH/Trinity, both of who will have felt aggrieved at having been relegated last season.
The Tigers in particular have become something of a yo-yo club, and the smart money is on them repeating the trend by returning to the top flight. Similarly, Worcester handled themselves well in their brief flirtation with Division One rugby, and will rightly be looking to bounce straight back.
The Michaelmas season of college rugby always throws up its fair share of surprises and if the less-fancied sides can capitalise on others’ missing Blues or 21s players, then both the First and Second Divisions could be blown wide open.
But don’t write off the possibility of Keble crushing all before them for a second successive year.