Hannah and her mother at Twickenham for the Varsity matchHannah Samuel

Hannah Samuel is a third year Law student at Girton College and has been involved in CURUFC since 2018. Hannah and her mother hold an interesting Cambridge record in that they are the first mother-daughter duo to have represented CURUFC. Her mother, who studied Law at Jesus College between 1992 and 1995, started playing rugby in her second year at Cambridge, eventually playing for both Saracens and England. Importantly, however, the generational gap between the two Cantabrigians offers an insight into the rapid development of the sport in recent decades. Hannah spoke to Varsity on this topic, among others.

Q: How has the women’s game progressed during your time at Cambridge?

A: During the BUCS season of my first year, we would sometimes struggle to field a full team for away games! I remember during the 2nd Team (Tigers) Varsity Match of first year, we had to ask people to play for us the night before the game. Now, we easily field a 1st and 2nd team, as well as this year having a 3rd team Varsity for the first time as well.

Q: Do you think that women’s rugby has changed since your mum played for Cambridge?

A: It’s completely different to when she was here. When she was playing here, they weren’t allowed to play on the Grange Road pitches, in fear that it would be messed up for when the boys played. I think she played on the pitch once and that was in the Varsity match of her final year. They also weren’t sponsored or associated as part of the main club, so had to do everything themselves. And Varsity was a half-blue sport in her day, whereas when I played, I got a full blue (something I like to tease her about!).

Q: Is women’s rugby becoming more popular? How can we change girls’ perceptions to get more involved in the sport?

A: I think it is definitely becoming more popular, nationally and within the university. I think the common misconception is that you have to be super tall and be able to squat and bench press loads of weight to be able to play rugby. And the reality is that, although it undoubtedly helps, it isn’t the be all and end all (evidenced by my relative weakness!). I think we need to show young girls and women that being strong is something to be encouraged, not shied away from out of fear that you won’t look like society’s version of ‘perfect’ – which is completely subjective!

Q: What does winning a Varsity mean to you? How does it feel to play in the game?

A: There really is no other feeling like it and if you haven’t had it, it’s hard to describe. Being able to play, and win, alongside your best friends that you’ve been training so hard with for the last three months, at the home of English rugby, is incredible. That day will always be one of the best days of my life and something I will be able to cherish and remember forever. The rugby family that we have at CURUFC is a very special thing and I feel blessed every day to be a part of it and to be able to represent the University doing what I love.

Hannah Samuel

Q: People say that playing sports while studying can be challenging. How do you manage to find a balance? Do you have time for other activities?

A: Cambridge is a stressful place for everyone, there is no doubt about that. It has taken me a long time to find a good balance of work, extracurriculars and socialising. As well as playing rugby, I am also a Choral Scholar at Girton, so I sing in three services a week in Chapel, as well as rehearsing two times a week on top of that.

You basically just have to learn to plan your time very effectively. Although it seems like a lot, I actually think that the fact that I am so busy is what keeps me productive and efficient. For example, if I know that I have work to do and I have allocated 3 hours to do it, I know that I have to get it done in those 3 hours; it prevents me getting distracted and procrastinating because I know that if I want to relax and do my other activities it has to get done.

Q: Do you find playing sports is a good way of coping with academic stress?

A: There have been COUNTLESS times where I have gone to a training session after a bad supervision and just taken great delight in tackling people or putting my head down and just running! It is such a good release from all the built-up stress that results from deadlines, meetings and supervisions. Also, some of my best friends are in the rugby team and they can always tell when I have had a bad day and are there to cheer me up.

Q: How have you found the role of social sec during the recent lockdowns? Have you managed to arrange anything with the other girls?

A: It has definitely been a challenge! We managed to get a couple of socials in person before the second lockdown hit in November, which was really nice. Me and Laura (the other social sec) have had to be very creative. We started a WhatsApp group that we shared with the men’s team where we would basically meet up in Pret, during their free coffee subscription, and have a chat and catch up (big up Coffee Clique). We also did lots of stuff over Zoom; weekly cook-alongs, quizzes, online poker etc. We had so many fun club nights and themed socials planned so it’s definitely disappointing and sad but we’ve tried to make the best of a bad situation.

Q: What have you missed most about rugby?

A: I think what I have missed most is the social aspect of it. As I said earlier, the team are so close and some of my best friends are in the rugby team so training with them a few times a week was a really good reliever of stress. I have still managed to see them out and about, get coffees and lunches and stuff but it’s definitely not the same as being able to tackle and take down people together!

I think the structure and routine of training and the gym is definitely something I miss. I was in the best shape I have been in during the 2019/2020 season and I do miss the drive and motivation to do that, because it has dipped now that we don’t know when we will be playing games again.