Marks scored a try in last year's 24-0 Varsity match win over OxfordKate Marks

CURUFC Women’s captain Kate Marks is still in her training kit when I meet her in the stands of the Cambridge University rugby ground on Grange Road. She sits perfectly at ease looking out onto the newly-mowed playing field where the Light Blues have dominated their BUCS league once again this season. Cambridge rugby certainly seems to be her natural habitat.

And in her role as captain this year, the 30th anniversary of the Varsity match, one of her main objectives has been to unite the current success of the Cambridge women’s rugby team with the players that have laid the foundations for their current success – all the way back to Sophia Peggers, the Cambridge captain who co-founded and won the first ever women’s Varsity match against Oxford in 1988. Marks explained, “it’s an honour to be a captain in an anniversary year and it’s a chance for us to cement our links with our alumni and offer some thanks to them for everything that they have done to get us to where we are now, but also to inform the girls on what it was like back when those players started up the Varsity match in the first place.”

“Playing at Twickenham is the pinnacle of quite a lot of rugby player’s careers. I don’t think there is anything quite like walking onto that pitch and feeling the sense of gravity in that situation. Even when the stadium is empty there is a special aura.”

“At the Varsity match we’ll have celebrations specifically for the alumni. They will be providing the guard of honour when we run onto the pitch at Twickenham and standing with us on the pitch when we sing the anthem. Most of them never experienced the chance to play at Twickenham so for them to be able to come onto the pitch will hopefully go some way towards righting that wrong.”

Marks is conscious of the fact that playing at Twickenham is a privilege that many female rugby players have not been able to experience, and stresses the role of the women’s Varsity match in raising the exposure of women’s rugby. “A lot of female internationals will never get the chance to play at Twickenham and it means a lot to have a game televised on BBC. Even though we are at the amateur end of the game, to actually be able to see women’s rugby on the television in a historic stadium which has traditionally only had men playing in it is incredibly poignant and a huge step forward for the women’s game.”

Exposure leads to better financial sponsorship, which in turn leads to the accelerated development of women’s rugby – this is a pattern that recurs across women’s sport. “I think finance is a huge barrier to participation and barrier to playing at that highest level and being able to access stadiums like Twickenham. I think once sponsors have some kind of requirement to sponsor both the female and the male side of things, then I think that will be a huge step forward.”

The Light Blues celebrate a hard-fought win over Oxford BrookesKate Marks

But once the women’s game gets the funding it deserves, Marks believes that the rest will naturally follow. This is visible at CURUFC where, while there are still improvements to be made, the amalgamation of the men’s and women’s RFU clubs in 2013 has meant that both teams have access to Grange road and the same facilities. The success of the women’s side in recent years is testament to the power of these equal opportunities.

Kate Marks of all people would appreciate the magic of Twickenham, having already triumphed at the home of rugby. She scored the third try from scrum-half in Cambridge’s 24-0 demolition of Oxford there last year. It is both a cathedral and an amphitheatre, she reflects: “Playing at Twickenham is the pinnacle of quite a lot of rugby player’s careers. I don’t think there is anything quite like walking onto that pitch and feeling the sense of gravity in that situation. Even when the stadium is empty there is a special aura. We’re lucky enough that we get to go and have a kicking session the day before and feeling the quiet, the silence in the stadium the day before is almost as special as actually running out on Varsity day.”

“To actually be able to see women’s rugby on the television in a historic stadium which has traditionally only had men playing in it is incredibly poignant”

“But there is nothing quite like a Varsity day. Seeing the stands full of the light blue colours of Cambridge and friends and family being there as well makes for a very special occasion. As a team you build up a very strong bond in the lead up to the Varsity match so being able to step onto the pitch at Twickenham and know how much it means to every single one of the players makes it even more special than it would be if you were there on your own.”

Indeed, Varsity is incredible for team-bonding, but it is also something that can be shared more widely. “We’ve been looking as players to go beyond the Varsity match and actually work within the community this season. We are on the amateur end of the game, so we can’t be taking Twickenham and just enjoying it for what it is. We’ve got to be using that for some kind of social good as well and that to me is incredibly important part of the whole package of the Varsity match.” Whether it be coaching and access work in inner-London schools, hosting mini Olympic games between local disability schools, or fundraising for mental health-awareness, Marks sees the club as having an impact outside the white lines of the rugby pitch.

Nothing tastes quite as sweet as Varsity victoryKate Marks

On the field, of course, the women’s rugby team have been going from strength to strength too. The Light Blues have won six games from six in convincing fashion and top BUCS Midlands 1A with an almost unassailable 15-point lead over second placed Worcester. But Marks is keen to avoid complacency: “I’ve loved being captain of a winning side. We’ve scored tries, we’ve played well, we’ve had some real successes and some really solid individual performances from players who have really, really developed this season. But I think I see my role now as to steady the ship. Those wins are great, but those wins are behind us now and actually going into the Varsity match is a whole different ball game.”

So, over the coming few weeks, the Light Blues will be continuing what has worked for them so well so far. “We’ll be building the intensity for another week and then things chill for a little bit. We have put in all the hard work – no-one could fault the girls for the effort they’ve shown this season. I’m incredibly proud of how far people have come and how much time people have put in. To be doing all of that training pretty much every day, sometimes twice a day, alongside a Cambridge degree is an impressive feat in itself and to be keeping your head above water is incredible; in the last week before Varsity all I want them to do is enjoy it.”


Mountain View

Bridget Fryer: the woman who wants to transform Cambridge athletics

On a final note, she added: “last week we were lucky enough to go down and train with the Saracens squad in London so we’re trying to keep pushing ourselves and making sure we aren’t resting on our laurels. We’ll be going into the Varsity game with a quiet confidence, is the way I like to put it. I don’t think we are overly confident. I don’t think we’re imagining we’re going to walk all over them. Oxford are a good side and any captain would be stupid not to recognize that. We love the feeling of winning and we don’t want it to stop now.”

The Varsity Match is at Twickenham Stadium, 11:30 am K/O, on the 6th December. For any other tickets info please do email Kate Marks at (Cambridge Women’s Blues Rugby Captain) or visit the website

Sponsored links