Varsity captains up for the challenge
The captains of the Oxford and Cambridge University Rugby League teams came face to face in London this week ahead of the Sky Sports-televised 31st Rugby League Varsity Match on Thursday night.
George Laing, who will be leading Cambridge from the second row, met up with his opposite number Marcus-Alexander Neil, the Oxford back rower, in the offices of sponsors Pcubed to talk about the biggest game in their calendar.
Laing will be playing in his third Varsity Match, winning in 2009 but on the losing side last year, and is full of confidence ahead of the clash at the Twickenham Stoop which is sponsored by Pcubed for the 13th successive year.
He said: “The squad’s looking good this year, we had a good training camp over the weekend at Thetford RFC and everything is slotting together.”
Surprisingly there are barely a handful of players in the squad from ‘traditional’ Rugby League backgrounds but their enthusiasm for the sport cannot be faulted, as Laing explains: “We play lots of matches and have a good training schedule so people tend to pick it up very quickly.
“John Evans is our head coach and has done about 12 Rugby League Varsity matches. We’ve also got Tom Brewster as our assistant coach. He ran the Rugby League set up at Durham University and has come down this year.
“It’s a massive experience, you’re at this big stadium with the lights on, the cameras are there, there are fireworks and dancing girls and it’s just something you’ve never experienced before. I remember walking out two years ago and it was mind blowing.”
For Marcus-Alexander Neil this will be his second Varsity Match and he holds the trophy after their victory last year. “We’ve got a very focused squad,” said Marcus. “We’ve been together for most of the year and are very strong and confident. I think we’ve got about seven returning from last year so there’s a lot of continuity.
“The Varsity Match is obviously huge for all of us but there’s been a real emphasis this year on focusing on the journey, and us as a squad whereas in previous years the focus has just been on beating Cambridge. We know that if we go out and execute we’ll have a good day regardless of who we are playing.
“Inevitably as we get closer to the match you focus on the opposition a bit more but we’re keen to focus on our game and if we execute we’ll be fine.”
Pcubed’s sponsorship of the Varsity Match is one of the longest in Rugby League. The central London-based company have only been in existence for 17 years but have sponsored the match for an incredible 13 years.
“The founder of the company, Paul Driver, is a massive Rugby League fan,” explained Rachel Compton, marketing co-ordinator at Pcubed. “For us it’s a great opportunity to sponsor up-and-coming talent and the mix of skills that are on show on the pitch, the drive, energy, dynamism and teamwork is everything we nurture and encourage.
“We are a project and programme management consultancy firm, so they’re exactly the kind of skills we look for in helping clients optimise their projects and programmes. Every year we bring about 70 guests which is a good mix of our global client base.”
The company also sponsor a schools Rugby League programme at the London Skolars which provides training for six London schools and culminates in a Tag Rugby competition which takes place prior to the annual Capital Challenge match between the Skolars and Harlequins RL at the HAC in the heart of the City.
“They get to play and then the winning school gets to lead out the teams,” added Rachel. “It’s a fantastic day for the children. They have a great time.”
The 31st Annual Pcubed Varsity Match
Oxford v Cambridge
Thursday March 3
The Twickenham Stoop
Kick Off 7.30pm live on Sky Sports 4
Admission on the night - Adults £10 – Concessions £5
Free admission for Quins season ticket holders with pass