With just under a week to go until rugby varsity at the University of Gloucestershire, I sat down with UGRFC’s Director of Rugby, Chris Downes or Downsey as he’s known, to discuss all things rugby as the boys in blue go in search of their fourth consecutive varsity win.
The first team have had one of the most successful seasons in recent years, gaining themselves promotion from Western 1A after topping the table for the majority of the season.
However, UGRFC haven’t always been the favourites going into the annual match against Worcester:
“We have been on the other side of it; where we’ve always been the underdogs.
“They have been in a higher league but over the last few years it has changed around and now we’re the senior team in terms of leagues.
“So, in theory we should get four but we turned them over in similar positions before so we definitely won’t take anything for granted.”
Playing for your university at varsity is one of the highest honours you can have during your time with a sports team and one thing that Downsey makes sure of, is that there is an equal chance for everyone to have a shot at making the varsity squad:
“It is a really good opportunity to give everyone a clean slate and then everyone is on an equal playing field.
“It is a really good opportunity to develop the guys for next year if they haven’t played much 1st team this year, so we always take a handful that aren’t regular first team players.
“This year because we have had a really successful season and with Worcester struggling in their league I wanted to make it competitive in our squad to make sure we were focused and primed and ready for April 10th.”
Trying to get a group of university rugby boys to stay on a ‘healthy path’ and stay committed to the sport can be difficult but the UGRFC rugby coaches know that at the end of the day that those who really want to play will take sacrifices:
“It is player choice, so if guys want to go out on a Monday night when they’re playing on a Wednesday they just won’t perform as well as they could do.
“There’s nothing we can do to control it at the moment so we just have to accept that it is a university lifestyle and the boys like a beer and they probably sleep at the wrong time and eat the wrong things and all that sort of stuff; but they are getting better they are much more focused on the rugby and times have changed.”
Last year’s 34-7 victory over Worcester saw Gloucestershire run in five tries against their rivals, but it wasn’t down to luck as their rigorous pre-varsity training programme paid off. Nevertheless, waking up at an hour that university students don’t normally know isn’t just preparation for what happens on the field:
“The reason we get them up at 6.30am three days a week for training during Varsity is for development.
“Not because it is 6.30am but it teaches them that they need to go to bed at a sensible time, that they can’t be tired and it teaches them that they need to prioritise.
“Developing their skills away from rugby through rugby.”
Across the country, university rugby has found a stereotype with ‘lad culture’ over the last few decades, but UGFRC are changing the way this is viewed and they are fully focused on the work both on and off the pitch:
“Societies are changing, before you had to drink hard to be a rugby player that’s not the case now.
“That’s why we are definitely more inclusive because selection to teams isn’t relevant to how well you social or who your friends are in the committee it is all down to attitude and how you apply yourself in training.”
It is known that some of the best days of your life will be made at university, surrounded by friends that you would have made for life. So, what does Downsey want his rugby boys to take away from their time with UGRFC?
“I want them to look back with fondness, we want to leave a legacy where people can look back and think I loved it.”
Where will you be on Wednesday 10thApril at 3pm? For a lot of the University of Gloucestershire they will be at Mosley rugby club for the final event of varsity, however, I couldn’t end the article without asking the most important question of all to the director of rugby… Cheese or a sauce?