This September, a twenty-nine-man squad of Oxford Men’s Blues’ rugby players, led by captain Ed David of St Hilda’s College, headed to Japan for the World University Rugby Invitation Tournament. The competition was held in Tokyo, and for the Blues’ side, who stayed with host families, followed by a stay in the former Olympic village in the city, it provided an excellent opportunity for competitive preseason matches before term kicks off. Eight teams representing eight countries from all around the globe took part, creating a university-level parallel to the World Cup which is now underway in Japan. The tournament was first established in 2015, when Oxford hosted the competition for teams coming from some of the most prestigious universities and leading rugby nations in the world, including New Zealand and South Africa. The next tournament will be held at Bordeaux University in 2023, to coincide with the World Cup taking place in France.

Prior to the start of the competition, the Men’s Blues had their first match of the season in Sagamihara, Tokyo, playing one half against the professional Mitsubishi DynaBoars side, and the second half against the amateur All Mitsubishi team. The first match of the season, the Oxford side took a while to warm up, but they came to half-time only down nine points, with a score of 19-10. The second half saw a resurgence in form, and the Dark Blues scored ten tries, while successfully holding off the other team from gaining points, leading to a 66-19 victory, and a very successful start to the tour. Players stayed with host family Mitsubishi employees for a few days to soak up the Japanese culture, and had a tour of the Mitsubishi factories before their first game. As the Rugby World Cup is currently taking place, several of the men’s team encountered some international rugby stars on the streets of Tokyo, including Ireland’s Johnny Sexton and Rory Best, and the All Blacks’ Ben Smith and Aaron Smith.

On the first day of play, Oxford got off to a good start against the Japanese team, from Waseda University, beating them 3-0. The narrow victory nonetheless put the team in a good position for the second day of competition, which started with a fixture against the Siberian Federal University, which also resulted in a victory for the Dark Blues, who beat the opposition 8-0. However, later in the day, they suffered a close defeat to the University of Sydney, who won 10-8. This placed Oxford second in the group, leading them to be matched with reigning champions, the University of Cape Town, in the top half of the semifinals. The South African team proved too strong, and beat the Dark Blues 15-0, before going on to win the final against Bordeaux University the following day, and retain the WURIT title. Oxford played their third-place play-off against Sydney again, but lost 10-5, leading to a very respectable fourth place finish, and the conclusion of an enjoyable trip to start the season. Since returning to England, the men’s side have had several other games before the BUCS season starts, including fixtures against the Croatian national team at Iffley road and against the Army U23s team.

While the men’s side were in Japan, the Oxford Women’s Blues rugby team headed for a tour of Gibraltar. The sunny climate allowed for strength and conditioning training on the beach, and a lovely location to start preseason training. Their first fixture was against the Equipo Femenino de Rugby Bahia in Algeciras. They got off to a comfortable start, finishing the first half with a score of 25-0. Although the Dark Blues’ defence was tested more in the second half, the team came away with a victory of 47-0, with tries scored by Meg Carter, Helen Potts, Ailsa Clark, Meryem Arik, Jessi Abele, Amber Kirwan and Sile Johnson.

For the second match of the trip, the women’s side took on Club de Rugby Atletico Portuense. Following another dominant performance, the team came away with a win of 58-0, proving them to be a formidable force on the trip so far. Tries came in this fixture from Katie Collis, Sile Johnson, Amber Kirwan, Connie Hurton, Zoe Nunn, Nina Jenkins and Maddie Hindson. The tour to Gibraltar also included a visit to a local school, a climb of the Rock of Gibraltar and intense training ready for the coming season.

Overall both they, and the Men’s Blues side enjoyed useful and enriching preseason tours which will hopefully indicate success for the coming term.