This week Cherwell spoke to the new women’s Blues captain for rugby union in Oxford, Sophie Shams.
When did you start playing rugby?
I started playing rugby when I was four – my mum used to play so she got all my siblings and me into it. I played with the boy’s team until about under 13 when I had to get a special dispensation to keep playing with them. I grew up in Dubai where there wasn’t much women’s rugby, let alone girl’s rugby, so I went into playing women’s and I trained with people that my mum played with. That was really fun. Towards the end of my years in Dubai, we really started getting girls rugby up and going and that was amazing to watch and be a part of. I then came to the UK for my undergrad and played for Durham University, played county-level rugby, played club premiership rugby, and also played some international rugby.
What made you want to get involved with rugby at Oxford?
Well, as I am a postgrad, I’m old, and I know that I need a group of people around me. Rugby clubs are quite good at giving you a sisterhood and a family that you can be around. The Varsity was a big enticer for me and it really drew me towards Oxford because I thought if I’m gonna study I might as well go somewhere that has a rugby scene. I’m really happy that I did because so many of the people that I spend time with are from rugby.
In your opinion, what makes rugby the best sport?
After a long day of sitting at a desk, getting frustrated that your code isn’t working, the best thing is running around on a pitch with your friends where you can just tackle, make your mark, let some frustration out, and just have some fun. With rugby, it’s just so inclusive, like any shape, any size, anyone can play, and you just meet so many different people.
What position do you play?
This season I played 12 – inside centre. I’m a bank, which means that I distribute the ball and pass it to forwards who usually crash it up as a 12. I also carry it forward and I’m quite a strong ball carrier. But I just like to make people look good, especially the fast ones.
How did this past season go for you?
I think it went better than everyone expected. We got new coaches in and the past Captain, Lauren, did such a great job in all of our success. So it’s quite a big task to fill those boots. We won the most games that we ever had since 2011, and that’s the earliest record we have, so it might have been the best season that we’ve ever had. It was the first time that we’ve won varsity at Twickenham since 2016, and we had such a great scoreline compared to all the other years. It was such a huge margin that it really put down our mark and stated we are Oxford Rugby and this is what we can do.
What is playing a varsity game like – is it exciting, nerve-racking or is it the same mentality as every other game?
I wanted it to be like every other game, but the fact that we spent so long preparing for it, by the time it came around, I just wanted it to be over. I was like I just want to play this game, get it done, and stop stressing about it. I think everyone was nervous, and I tried to not focus on it. Sometimes like in the first half, we got caught sleeping but in the second half, we really showed off.
What has been the biggest setback and success for your team this year? Is there something you want to continue as a captain or something that you would want to change?
We are lucky this year in that we don’t have many players that are graduating. With all university sports, the turnover is so high and you’re always recruiting, always training people to be the best they can be for their time at university. But when a good core of the team stays that means we already have a foundation that we can build upon. This season we can really focus on growing the new blues, and the new generation of OURFC. I think a new mindset which I’m quite excited to implement is that competition mindset, and working hard every week to start the game wearing that playing shirt. I want people to want to be starting this week, and to encourage a drive for people to improve.
How does it feel to be named as captain for this season?
It feels amazing to be awarded the captaincy. I have a few ideas on how to pull in parts from my premiership, from my international experiences and just being with teams and with different groups of people, using things that I like, and avoiding what I don’t. And it’s not just rugby; there are things I want to introduce from touch and rowing things that will ensure a bit more team cohesion. I feel that a lot of the players respect me and they come to me, and in turn, I respect and look up to them just in general for things. I’m always learning from them, which is rewarding. I’ve got quite a good relationship with the coaches and I feel that I can bring us all together.
What’s your best sporting moment?
The first time I played at Twickenham. I was at the BUCS final for Durham University, which is where I did my undergrad. It was my second game at fullback, which is the player that’s left and very back and the last line of defence who catches the high balls. I caught the ball just outside the 50-meter 60-meter line and I looked up and pulled across the middle of the field. Then I just weaved through everyone and did a step at the end where the girl fell over, and scored. There’s a photo of that that shows my reaction and it’s made me into a poster girl but I think that was just such an amazing moment because I wasn’t focused on what everyone else was thinking I was just focused on playing rugby and enjoying it. That’s when I really felt the spirit of rugby just take over me.
What was your most embarrassing moment?
Oh, probably just before that happened. I dropped the ball just off the highway. Best and Worst at the same time.
What would you say was your worst defeat with Oxford?
Cardiff away this season. The whole day just did not work out. The bus was late so we were rushed into the changing rooms, we weren’t set up for the game, we had a weird warm up and everyone was just stressing out a lot. We had some really big injuries in that game but we really gave it all we could. Even though we did lose, we learnt a lot. But oh my goodness, any player that you ask will say that game was tragic.
And your best victory?
Probably varsity. It is the highlight of our season, but also I don’t want it to overshadow all of our success in other games. We went from the bottom of the league all the way to the top two. That’s the highest we’ve been in a BUCS table and I think that’s also a victory in itself. I found that we’re not a one-match performing team – our success has been shown throughout the season, which I’m really happy about.
Where can we watch you guys play?
Get down to the Iffley rugby club, matches are free to attend. If you want to know where we’ll be or what teams will be playing just search up a @ourfc_blues on Instagram.
Image Credit:[Sophie Shams] Oxford University Rugby Football Club