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Varsity rivalries to be renewed at Twickenham

Having won a tight defensive match 3-0 last year, Oxford are hoping to show more in attack tomorrow at Twickenham when they take on arch-rivals Cambridge in the annual Varsity game. We spoke to head coach Gary Street.

As the former England head coach, Street is well used to preparing his team for big games at Twickenham. Street had in fact never lost a game coaching sides at Twickenham until the first Varsity match in 2015 when he watched his new charges go down 52-0 in the first Varsity day which featured the women's side as a double header. 

Doing the job alongside his coaching role with Harlequins women, Street is confident that this year's game can be the best showcase yet. 

"Preparation has been really good for us this year. We have won four out of six BUCS Premier South games to date and currently sit third in the league table. Numbers have been great in training and our players are in good shape for Thursday."

While plenty is known about the history of the Varsity men's game, the women's game until 2015 had flown rather under the radar. The game at Twickenham, plus the TV coverage along with it has sharpened the focus - and the players' commitment. 

There have been 30 various matches to date with Oxford winning 19 and Cambridge winning 11. Indeed Street coached Cambridge to one of those of those back in 2001. 

He says the new exposure of the match itself is driving standards.

"I am sure the standard will continue to rise year on year as there is so much more investment and support in to the women's game even at a university level. It would be great to have as many supporters as possible as the rivalry will be intense and I am really looking forward to a potentially great game on Thursday. I'm hoping the fixture continues to give opportunities and visibility for the women's game going forward. I'm still very excited about the chance to coach at Twickenham again!

As for the challenge of going from coaching elite internationals to some players who are brand new to the game, Street has relished it. 

"The vast majority of the squad have some experience either from being at Oxford or playing at some level of experience coming from school , county and Club rugby."

"I haven't really changed my coaching approach at all. For me, it's about giving players responsibility, ownership and enjoyment of the game. Myself and Ali Mortimar are there to guide, nudge and support. We have some very bright players, so we encourage them to make their own decisions.

"One of the most enjoyable parts of coaching for me, is to help somebody improve.Obviously with newer players at Oxford there is a huge opportunity to do this, so not difficult at all."

Street has also been able to marry his coaching role at Quins well with Oxford. 

"Links are already starting to grow and Jenny Smith who was a blue from last year is in the Quins squad and we also have a current blue in Pat Metcalf -Jones Who has also played for Harlequins this year. I am sure that this will continue to grow in the future."

Managing his time is his biggest challenge. 

"It's a pretty busy week by week experience! I do however just have to make sure I plan really well and make sure I can give my full attention dependent upon the day to both Harlequins and Oxford. They are two amazing employers to work for and greatly supportive of both my roles.
 

Varsity Game - Facts and Stats (men's and women's)

  • Cambridge's men are hoping to make it 63 wins from 136 matches with Oxford having won 59 games
  • The first men's Varsity Match was in 1872 and 14 have ended in a draw
  • The first women's Varsity Match was played in 1988
  • Oxford have won 19 of the 30 women's matches including 13 in a row between 1989 - 2001
     

How to follow 

  • You can still buy tickets to watch both matches live at Twickenham. Tickets are on sale here 
  • The women's match will be available on the BBC via the red button from 11.25 tomorrow
  • The men's match will be on BBC Two from 2.25
  • UniLad will be streaming both matches live on Facebook
  • You can also follow live updates from @VarsityMatch and reaction on @EnglandRugby