This season has been a challenge for allPixabay

The impact of the COVID pandemic has undoubtedly been felt in every facet of life. And sporting activities, including rugby, aren’t an exception. This season should have been one of celebration at Grange Road – with Cambridge University Rugby club celebrating their 150-year anniversary – however the season, like all others, has been placed on hold. The last fixture was played in February 2020 when the men’s team beat the Army to set a new club record of ten consecutive victories.

In a normal season, between April and September, the players would usually focus on building their strength and conditioning in gym work but, with gyms also closed, that has become equally difficult. By September, it’s normally about focusing on the playing side of rugby and preparing for the annual Varsity match at Twickenham, the highlight of the year.

This year has been a real challenge for everyone connected with the club, particularly for the Blues’ Head Coach, James Shanahan, who has held the position since 2015.

Shanahan told Varsity: “it’s almost been impossible during lockdowns to plan a suitable structure for the season. The boys have worked so hard and luckily we have an outstanding strength and conditioning coach in James Owen. Scott Annett, who is our Director of Rugby at the club, basically runs the club off the field. Those two have kept everyone going in these troubled times’’.

With the RFU grinding the sport to a halt at all levels, the club only managed three weeks of training in October. When returning to training, the team was required to follow a number of new rules in an attempt to reduce the risk of transmission; questionnaires before arrival, groups of no more than twenty players, and touch-only games were just some examples. Naturally, like the rest of the world, players were also required to maintain social distancing at all times when not playing. Groups were required to arrive at staggered times and leave from different entrances. Balls and hands were also sanitised every 15 minutes and sessions were limited to an hour.

Shanahan said: “Even though the training sessions were different, the players enjoyed the session as it gave them a chance to get outside and throw a ball around.” When the second lockdown was enforced in November, they were forced to stop and the team have not been able to attend a training session since. In spite of this, they have been able to undertake strength and conditioning sessions via Zoom, which has helped keep people’s spirits up.

Mental health has been a key concern throughout the University, as well as globally, during periods of lockdown. Sportspeople, who have had to stop playing the sports they love, have not escaped such effects.

Anyone that knows ‘Shanners’ will know that to him, rugby is not just a job. Like many sportspeople, going to the gym usually functions as his mental release. But he has taken up running more and done home garden workouts. Not being able to organise the season properly or plan for the Varsity match (which has now been put on hold until March) has allowed the Blues coach to concentrate on other things that are important to him, like looking after his young family and home schooling his daughter Scarlett.


Mountain View

What Did We Learn from Training in Lockdown

With the renewed lockdown and rugby still placed on hold, it is hard to plan anything. But it would be nice to see rugby, as well as other sports within the University, resume in Lent term in some form. This may require a change of rules, like those of the first half of the Michaelmas term. Or perhaps, the structure may be changed to mirror the amended laws by which the Women’s Premiership is now playing – including no mauls and limited scrums. While nobody is quite sure what will happen, one thing is for sure – the men’s team at CURUFC are in good hands and James Shanahan will already be working out how to ensure another light blue victory in the next Varsity match, whenever that may be.