Oxford University Rugby captain John-Henry Carter talks about preparations for the forthcoming battle with Cambridge.
It's easy to forget that the varsity match is just one game for the team out of a whole season. How's the year gone so far?
Well, so far we've lost eight, drawn one and won one. From the outside that might look like we're not doing very well, but we've come together as a team. There's always more than one virtue to be drawn from any game, and I think our strengths have been built within the team – just not on the score line quite yet. Hopefully they'll manifest themselves come the big day.
The Varsity Match is the focal point for the University's rugby fans. Does it feel like the biggest game of the season to the team?
Very much so. The season’s geared towards it. But the way we approach it is to make the high point of the season the whole four months building up to the game. Externally those 80 minutes are viewed as the focal point of the season – and quite rightly so – but it's the journey that's important to the team.
You used to play for Premiership rugby club Sale Sharks. How does playing for Oxford compare to playing in a professional team?
I would say Oxford, over the past two or three years, has been the most enjoyable rugby of my life. We're in a very fortunate position here: we can combine all the best points of both professional and amateur rugby. There's true value and meaning in rugby at Oxford, which can sometimes be skewed when you're playing professionally and worrying about finances and sponsorship.
What's the mix of professionals and amateurs like in the team?
There's a very wide mix. There will be freshers involved in the starting line-up: the team's made up of something like 60 percent undergraduates and 40 percent postgraduates. Obviously, playing at Oxford as an ex-professional is an attractive proposition. If you're of a suitable academic ability to make it into the University, then it's a wonderful thing to do, as you get to combine a sport you love with a subject you're passionate about.
How do you manage to fit in your various sporting and academic commitments?
We don't really create a strict regime, and we understand that academic work is a priority. Now, there may be times when rugby takes priority—and there's no denying that it can sometimes be a hectic schedule—but that's the nature of combining both rugby and academia at such high levels. That means we end up living very healthily at times: giving up small things for something bigger and more important.
So what's the training regime like?
If we play a game on Monday, we train Tuesday, Wednesday, Friday, and Sunday—with an optional session on Thursday. Then on top of that there are individual weight and fitness sessions three times a week. So, it can take up rather a lot of time.
And what's the schedule looking like between now and the big game?
With term ending, we'll be continuing to train in the same way but including some team building sessions, too. Then I'll meet with the whole team individually and tell them whether they've made the starting line-up, and we'll have a final team dinner at the Rose and Crown. We head down to Twickenham the night before the game.
What's the mood like within the team now, and how will it change on the build up to the big day?
There's an awareness of the significance and intensity of what's to come, and that's been steadily rising over the last two or three weeks. It will become more and more intense, obviously, and then it's a matter of guiding things to make sure it remains positive rather than turning into anxiety. But generally we're all very close—we've worked hard, and we're all going to be playing for each other.
Finally, what are Oxford's chances this year?
Hopefully we'll have a repeat of the score line from last year [18-10 to Oxford]—or even improve on it. But it's always difficult to call these things. Whatever happens on the day, it will have been a successful journey for the whole team.
The Varsity Match takes place at Twickenham on December 6th. Tickets are still available.