Cambridge are seeking their first victory in the fixture since 2009Maksim Richards Photography

Tomorrow night (18/06), Oxford and Cambridge will battle it out at Grange Road to claim victory in the 41st Rugby League Varsity Match. Ahead of the Reserves fixture, at 17:30, and the Blues fixture, at 19:00, and the prospect of a reduced-capacity sell-out, Cambridge University Rugby League Football Club (CURLFC) President Elliott Stockdale spoke to Varsity about preparation for the Blues Match, training throughout a Covid-stricken year and more.

Stockdale, himself a second-year economics student, first of all touched on the impact that the pandemic has had on training at CURLFC this academic year. “Obviously it’s been a bit of a roller coaster”, he admitted, “certain times have been pretty good, but [...] I think we tried to just keep it as positive as possible and tried to keep things moving forward, because I think especially in the Lent Term, you always knew there was going to be an endpoint to lockdown [...] so you have to keep everyone on the ball.”

“I would say that’s where the game will be won and lost, who can slow the other team down the most”

With the provisional postponement of BUCS competitions until January 2021 at the earliest, and the November 2020 lockdown, the team trained twice a week at the start of Michaelmas until November, and then focused on “individual fitness [by] meeting up in ones and twos”. With the announcement of the post-Christmas national lockdown, and the cancellation of BUCS, Lent Term then saw “quite [a] few zoom sessions [...] looking at game plan and strategy for the Varsity Match”, allowing the team to focus on tactics amidst student absence from Cambridge.

However, despite the BUCS cancellation leaving the team “in the lurch as to what pre-game preparation [the team] would have before the Varsity Match”, Elliott said that the majority of players returned by the last week of April. This allowed the team to play their only match of the year to date, in the form of a friendly fixture in Bedford last month to bolster match fitness. Given that some of the team have not played Rugby League before, Elliott highlighted the importance of this friendly in “getting them used to the rules and seeing what an actual game feels like and how tiring it can be.”

Turning to recent preparation for the fixture, the team has increased its training from two to three sessions a week, two of which encompass “field sessions out on the pitch” to assist with physical preparation. Elliott affirmed the players’ determination to put an end to Oxford’s eleven-year winning run, eyeing a first Cambridge win since their 20-4 victory over the Dark Blues in 2009 at Twickenham Stoop.

“It just keeps on growing, that motivation [to end Oxford’s run]. I think this year we’ve definitely got something different”, Elliott said. Speaking about last year’s fixture, in which he played and which saw Oxford triumph 32-20, he said that the team have re-watched the performance, “analysed it and seen where we can improve individually and collectively as a unit.”

“we know our attack will score tries and we will put points on Oxford”

From a technical perspective, Elliott highlighted the team’s ruck defence as an area that has required improvement. “In Rugby League, you have to play the ball [...] quite a lot of Rugby League is emphasising how quick the play-the-ball is. So as an attacker, you want to speed your play-the-balls up to get what we call a roll-on [...] the quicker you can play the ball the other team has to run back ten metres and it creates more space on the edges because everyone has to compress to try and tackle them.”

He continued: “what we’ve been working on to try and nullify Oxford’s strengths is working on our markers and our A and B defenders to try and slow their play-the-balls down as much as possible. I would say that’s where the game will be won and lost, who can slow the other team down the most. Our attack is great, and we know our attack will score tries and we will put points on Oxford. I’m really confident of that. It’s just whether our defence can slow their play-the-balls down, and nullify their attacking weapons. If we do that well, then I’m very, very confident we’ll win the game.”


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With up to three hundred spectators expected at Grange Road on Friday night (18/06), Elliott remarked that “it’s going to be huge”, adding that it will be a special occasion not just for the fans in attendance, but also the players who are yet to compete in Rugby League, expressing his desire that “hopefully we give everyone a night to remember.” Also speaking proudly of CURLFC, he cherished its position as a “small, tight knit club” and “nice balance of a good culture, also a winning culture as well”.

With the overall number of victories for this fixture at Oxford 23-16 Cambridge (not including the 22-22 draw at Old Deer Park in 1994), the Green Lions, as CURLFC are commonly known, are looking to claw back, with Elliott warning Oxford: “Be prepared for a stronger Cambridge side this year. One that’s both physically and mentally ready for a full eighty minutes, and one that’s smart enough to come away with the win this time.”

Expected Squads



1) Ross McGinn, 2) Ted Chatfield, 3) Reuben Brown (VC), 4) James Laudage, 5) Joe Thrush, 6) Elliott Stockdale, 7) James Mahon, 8) Alex Froud, 9) Richard Bowen, 10) Hugo Lloyd Williams, 11) Will Scrivens, 12) Matt West, 13) Max Holcroft (CC), 14) Will Yarwood, 15) Rhys Mould, 16) Ben Schallamach, 17) Todd Tunley


1) Josh Abbas, 2) Logan Stewart, 3) Dan Cotton, 4) Hunter Heenan-Jalil, 5) Harry Folkard, 6) Charlie Hewes, 7) Jack Gordon, 8) Will Osborne, 9) Jaidan Reeder, 10) Ryan Parry, 11) Lewis Sutton, 12) Lewis Greenan-Barret, 13) Rufus Pierce Jones (C), 14) Archie Baraclough, 15) Jamie Lloyd Williams, 16) Jack Wilson, 17) Leo Langridge



1) Mathew Brady, 2) Claudio Lubis, 3) Alex Davies, 4) Eugenio Nanni, 5) Felix Asare, 6) Juan Rodgers, 7) Howard Hawkes, 8) Sean Smith, 9) Theo Denys, 10) Matyas Molnar, 11) Tobia Nava, 12) Joe Fennell, 13) James Arthur, 14) Amritz Ansara, 15) John Tan, 16) Seb Baynes, 17) Marek Szeles

Oxford (Maroons)

1) Ollie McAllister, 2) Abdullah Reza, 3) Mauricio Alencar, 4) Seb Talbot (C), 5) James Tufnell, 6) James Milford, 7) Joe Grosvenor, 8) Harry Jackson-Smith, 9) Angus McCance, 10) Steven Ettema, 11) James Mann, 12) Milo Wills, 13) Gabe Tufail-Smith, 14) Rufus Longsdon, 15) Keir Mather, 16) Tomas Dwyer, 17) Tola F-a, 18) Tom Duffield