Getting ready for the Varsity Match

0
1452

“Underdogs?” says Steve Hill with a degree of bemusement. “It’s interesting to hear Cambridge describe themselves as underdogs when they’ve won the last three Varsity matches.”

From Hill’s point of view, Oxford are the “underdogs from a form point of view, at least in terms of this particular game.” And he’s at pains to point out what a different sort of fixture it is – “it’s very much a cup final situation; there’s a huge amount of pressure on players. If you make a mistake in a league game, you’ve got the chance to make it up the following Saturday. Once you set foot on the pitch at Twickenham, you’re there to win.”

Yet Hill seems confident about Oxford’s chances. “Obviously we believe there are certain strengths we’re going to play to – it’s been great having Anton Oliver training with the guys this time around. He’s made an outstanding contribution, and is a really important part of the team now from both a rugby and social point of view.”

Hill is reluctant to talk about many of his players, having still to make his mind up about the final squad. But he has a lot of time for the ex-New Zealand hooker: “it’s great having someone with experience of playing in front of 40,000 spectators. There’s only two or three guys from last year’s line-up who can say the same, and Anton knows the pressure of playing in front of huge crowds with his international experience.”

Peter Clarke, OURFC captain, also comes in for praise. “He’s had a very strong season captaining the squad, as well as in his capacity as openside flanker – a crucial position,” says Hill. “I’m sure he’s keen to put on another great performance at Twickenham.”

Hill’s concerns lie in the Oxford side’s capacity to deal with the Tabs’ massive forwards. Captain Jon Dawson’s abilities at prop seem to unsettle the Oxford coach, along with some hefty back-up from “irreplaceable” former Wallaby lock Dan Vickerman. “Cambridge are an incredibly strong pack and they’ve had a formidable scrum these past couple of years,” Hill tells me. “That’s an area we’re doing to have to work hard at to negate their strength.”

Injuries and illness have also played their part in dampening expectations. “Four or five guys have been out recently with stomach bugs and the like, and this has really disrupted preparations. There’s still one or two down, but we’re hoping they’ll be back for the Varsity fixture.”

“I think the hardest thing this year has been the loss of Lehman’s, though,” says Hill, referring to the former sponsor’s collapse at the end of the summer. “Now we’ve got Nomura on board, though, I’m really hopeful to get back lots of student support. I’d like to see as many people as possible who have associations with the university there to support the squad.”

Perhaps a strong turnout for Oxford will help to counterbalance the nerves of a team which isn’t used to the tremendous pressure that a fixture like the Varsity match will bring.

 

LEAVE A REPLY

Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here