Tell us about yourself: where you’re from, what subject you’re doing, and how you got into rugby?
I’m Jasper, a second year physicist at Oriel, and I live in Cambridge. I first played rugby in Sydney where I grew up and continued it in Tokyo, where I spent four years. Since then, I have been playing in and around Cambridge, and now at Oxford!
As a rugby blue, how many hours do you devote to training or competitions each week? Does it get into the way of academic work?
Rugby has the unique quirk of having its Varsity Match in December which means the vast majority of our performance-focussed training happens in Michaelmas with an extensive pre-season before hand. At the peak of the season we are probably training 3-4 times a week with 2-3 gym sessions and a game on a Friday night. This does consume a lot of time which invariably means sacrifices in work or social life but after Varsity training is scaled down appropriately so the work can be made up with a bit of commitment.
How does rugby compare to other blues sports, from your experience?
I have pretty limited experience with other Blues sports but from what I have seen there is an almost universal shared dedication to their respective sports. Relative to the other sports, our season is very short, and so I think we have a reputation for the intensity of our pre-season and Michaelmas training.
What do you think of ‘lad culture’ in Oxford? How should the problems with this be tackled?
Obviously, I can only speak from my experiences with Oxford and Oriel but I would say that the ‘lad culture’ here is pretty minimal. We (at OURFC) have no initiations and socials are, for the most part, events where the team can buy in as much or as little as they like. We try to encourage attendance as we feel that it is an important part of team-building but Oxford is an intense environment with many conflicting time-pressures so we appreciate that players may have other commitments.
At OURFC, the men and women’s teams are fully integrated, and share a positive relationship in all aspects of running the club. With respect to behaviour, I am pleased to say that I have never experienced anything that I would consider offensive to myself or others during my time here, and I am confident in saying that I believe we foster an environment where such behaviour would not be tolerated.
The annual varsity match at Twickenham is surely one of the highlights of rugby at Oxford. How was your experience playing at such a prestigious venue, in front of a crowd of 22,000?
I have been lucky enough to play three times at Twickenham and have experienced three very different environments. In my first year we played an outstanding game and won a resounding victory, which remains the proudest moment of my time at Oxford. The feeling of shared accomplishment with 23 of my best mates will be very hard to beat. This year we lost which was, as you can imagine, another experience all together, but it highlighted to me the importance of perspective in sport. We didn’t win the game but that did not diminish the team’s achievements throughout the season.
This year, the match was played in suboptimal conditions and Oxford lost both the men’s and women’s matches. What positives do you think the team can take away from the match?
We learnt a lot that day about executing a plan and adapting to our environment. We had developed a highly attacking game-plan that suited our team well, but we weren’t able to move away from this when it really mattered. It is an important part of leadership to recognise the changing landscape and devise a way to overcome the obstacles and I think this was a lesson we all learnt that day. Despite this, we spoke all year of seeing changes as opportunities and not looking for excuses when things didn’t go our way and I think it was a real strength of our team that we persevered with our attempts to attack and play the way we knew best.
Many British university rugby teams never get to play at Twickenham, unless they reach the final of the BUCS Super Rugby Championship, a tournament which Oxford and Cambridge blues don’t even compete in. Do Oxbridge teams deserve this privilege? Does it perpetuate a perception of exclusivity surrounding Oxbridge, and is this part of an access issue?
I think that we are indeed very privileged to play at the historical home of rugby, but this is justified by both rugby clubs’ status as historic powerhouses in driving participation and the development of the game. Up until the professionalisation of rugby in 1995, the annual Varsity Match was, in a lot of ways, a trial game for the England team with games being played in front of capacity crowds of 60,000, matching and in some cases exceeding crowds for international matches. OURFC is 150 years old and has 340 ex-international players, including 41 British and Irish Lions. I certainly think that matches of this standard deserve to be played at the most prestigious ground in the country.
In modern times, the professionalism of the game has increased the competition for crowds’ attendance and now we only draw around 22,000-25,000 but recently the Varsity Match company has been pushing free tickets for local school children who would not otherwise be able to attend a rugby match at Twickenham. In this way the Varsity Match not only gives young children an opportunity to get into rugby, but it also gives them a very real connection to both universities. We have players now who first decided they wanted to come to Oxford from watching the Varsity Match on TV or in person and so I think if anything, the game improves the visibility and accessibility of the university.
The coronavirus pandemic has disrupted much in the world of sport. How much of your sporting life has changed? In general, how has university sport been affected?
Well as we’re all aware, the movement of Trinity term learning online means that the vast majority of sports won’t be able to organise team sessions or competitions. We have had to cancel the men’s tour to Croatia, as well as the women’s tour to France and as well as this we had scheduled historic fixtures for the men against the Barbarians and for the women against the Penguins which have been postponed. We have also lost the semi-finals and finals for the cuppers competitions which we are currently working with colleges to reschedule.
Although we are now in our off-season, as a team we have been impacted through the loss of team skills and fitness sessions, as well as access to our gym. These are pretty key losses, as the off-season is a great time to improve the small things that take longer to develop.
How will training carry on? What are you doing to stay fit and also connected to your teammates?
We have been given training programmes by our Strength and Conditioning coach which are great to keep the body moving and keep some sort of sanity in these pretty hectic times. We’re also in the process of doing video analysis of some Premiership games to maintain an awareness and understanding of the game – it also gives us the chance to watch some rugby! Obviously, the boys have our various group chats which have been going off recently and these are keeping everyone together as a team.
Trinity term is going online. Does this mean more time to focus on things other than sport?
Well if it is true that we will be given the same amount of work as would otherwise be set, then it’s just going to be another Trinity I guess. It’s unfortunate we are going to lose some pretty historic socials such as the forwards vs. backs cricket game, but these are of course small sacrifices in these times.