The history of the Varsity is one rich in both victory and defeat. The oldest student rugby match in the world, the sporting fixture has settled nicely into Murrayfield, where the Edinburgh and St Andrews teams will be supported by a crowd 10,000 students strong. Although the match was founded as a battle between the men’s 1st XVs, the 2014 Varsity took the momentous step of featuring the oft-overlooked women’s rugby team in the day’s games.
Captain Comfort Ogbonnaya expresses her pride in the growth of women’s rugby: “I think women’s sport in general is overlooked, and women’s rugby is often overshadowed by the men’s game. […] Our varsity game started as a 14 minute halftime 7s game and has developed into a 40 minute fixture in its own right. That’s definitely a reflection of just how much women’s rugby is growing as more people, both spectators and players, become interested in the sport.”
Club President Naomi Boon echoes her sentiments: “Women’s rugby in St Andrews has grown and developed immensely in the past few years, reflecting the growth of women’s rugby in general across Scotland and the rest of the UK.”
Now embarking on their third Varsity match, the team is prepared to make their mark on Murrayfield. For a club that once struggled for members, the girls have made incredible strides in the realm of women’s rugby. The team emerged from the 2014/2015 season with the Scottish 1A BUCS title firmly in hand, a feat referred to as “a massive accomplishment” by both Naomi and Comfort. “Each year we’ve gone from strength to strength, both on and off the pitch, which we can only hope continues,” says Comfort. “No matter what happens, I know I’m proud of my team and the effort they’ve put in.”
The rapid increase in popularity of the women’s rugby fixture is evidence that lack of publicity, rather than lack of interest, has been the sport’s primary obstruction. Comfort attributes the low membership of previous years to “a lack of exposure to rugby as a viable sporting option for girls.” As their presence increases thanks to events like the Varsity, the team will attract new members and continue to amass victories.
Naomi describes the club as “more than just a sports team. We strive to be a club that engages with the rest of the student body, and the local community. We just raised over £150 for the Teenage Cancer Trust with our first fundraiser of the year, and hope to work with Women for Women St Andrews this year on joint fundraisers.”
Every member appears to carry equal amounts of passion for the game. Over the summer, the hashtag #varsityfit acted as a rallying cry to the girls, all training in anticipation of an intense pre-season week. Naomi expects the group’s “positive mindset and attitude towards Varsity” to serve them well on the day, as they take the field for the biggest sporting event of the school year.