St Andrews men’s 1XV rugby team were crowned the Scottish Varsity Champions for the second time in a row after putting in an impressive performance in the Scottish capital on Saturday 24 September.
Formed in 1858 and 1857 respectively, the University of St Andrews RFC and Edinburgh University RFC are two of the oldest rugby clubs in the world. The fiercely competitive fixture between the two universities dates back more than 160 years and is believed to predate the annual Cambridge versus Oxford Varsity Match.
After a period of absence, the fixture was reintroduced into the calendar in 2011. The match used to be held at BT Murrayfield Stadium, the home of Scottish rugby, but the Peffermill Playing Fields did not put off the sell-out crowd, with an impressive home and away support for both teams.
St Andrews had a shaky start after Edinburgh scored a quick try, building on this by converting two penalties. St Andrews were on the scoresheet after being awarded a penalty try meaning the Saints went into the break only 11-7 down.
A pulsating second half performance from St Andrews saw them dominate proceedings and finish worthy winners. Edinburgh only managed to get three more points in the second half whereas the Saints crossed the try line three times in the second period, with two tries from Fergus Cato and one from Peter Dodd, plus a conversion which put the team in blue firmly in control.
I caught up with the Captain and Man of the Match, John Paterson, to discuss his thoughts on the varsity victory and the upcoming season.
How would you sum up your team’s Varsity performance?
Pretty gutsy! We did not start off at all well and started the match playing some of the worst rugby we’ve played in the last few weeks! I think it did, however, show our character. The fact we managed to hang on, managing to get into half time with only a small deficit felt significant. At half time, Dave (the coach) gave us our team talk, indicating whereabouts we should be trying to play on the pitch and we managed to sort ourselves out, ultimately meaning we came home with the trophy!
You did have a bit of a slower start, were you at all worried about the way the game was heading in the first half?
Honestly, no. Talking to the boys though, maybe I should have been! I think a couple of the lads were slightly worried, but I always back the team and never thought the game was getting away from us. Scoreboard wise, it wasn’t ever out of our reach. Edinburgh might think they should have put us out of reach in the first half, but they were just not able to capitalise when they were in possession and that was down to our strong defensive line.
What elements of your game do you think set you above Edinburgh?
Set pieces. Our lineouts and scrums were so much better in every single facet. It got to the point where they were not putting anyone up against our one jumper. What we were trying to do at the lineouts became obvious; they would give us free ball meaning we could build the maul, and ultimately this is what gave us our tries.
Which players do you think specifically stepped up on the big day?
Our tighthead prop, Sam Wright, dominated the scrum – without him we wouldn’t have won. Fergus Cato also showed a lot of grit, his line-outs throwing was superb and even though he plays open side flanker, he is undoubtedly the best in the team.
What was the training schedule like in the lead up to Varsity?
During pre-season and Varsity build up, our training is much more intense than throughout the rest of the year. Varsity is unbelievable and the peak of St Andrews rugby, but we are all knackered! We would be training almost twice as much as normal, which can be draining for the team.
How will you carry forward this momentum?
We have shown, beating a strong Edinburgh side in the league above us, that we have the quality to hopefully even win the league. We need to keep the belief about us. We know our abilities, we just need to prove it with results moving forward.
Which are the areas that you think you can improve on?
Two things. Fitness and game management. Heading into Varsity we were so focused on the details around how we wanted to play and set pieces that we did not focus much on fitness. We also need to manage the game better. Our back line is our strength and I felt we didn’t really utilise it. If we can control the game, playing where and how we want to play, we will be a lot more dangerous as a team.
As you got promoted last season, now you have to travel down to England for matches. How will you face this new challenge?
We are lucky the AU is investing a lot into the team and that they are putting us in a hotel the night before each match. Annoyingly some teams in England, such as Doncaster, have pushed back the kick-off to be as late as possible for the home team. We are unable to dispute timings away from home and so we’ll be playing at 6.30pm against Doncaster meaning, finish at about 8.30pm and get straight on the bus back here afterwards. It’s a lot of time to take out of our week but hopefully it will all be worth it when we look back at the end of the season.
On the day this is published, St Andrews will have played their first match against Doncaster. Hopefully the long journey back was a happy one and that they got their first league win under their belt.
Up the Saints!
St Andrews Starting XV: 1. Harry Rodgers, 2. Josh van Vuuren, 3. Sam Wright, 4. John Paterson (C), 5. Liam Kerr, 6. Ian McNaught, 7. Fergus Cato, 8. Peter Dodd, 9. Ross Cadzow, 10. James MacDonald, 11. Cameron Ledingham, 12. Brodie Wells, 13. Drew Cadzow, 14. Adam Ivins, 15. Sean Varty
St Andrews Replacements: 16. Paddy Nixon, 17. John Gildea, 18. John Belcher-Heath, 19. Max Jackson, 20. Tom Regis, 21. Rory Thain, 22. David Macrae, 23. Alfie Gardner
Image: Hannah Peart