Ahead of the 137th Men's Varsity Match between Oxford and Cambridge, TRU’s Joe Harvey spoke to former Oxford flanker Will Wilson about the importance of this game to the players.
“It’s a massive honour. Fewer men have won Oxford Blues than have played for England, less than 200 have won three, so I feel part of a very elite group!” said Will Wilson.
Currently a Wasps Academy player, Wilson has played in three Varsity games at Twickenham.
“Our entire season is built around the Varsity Match, continued Wilson. “We don’t even compete in BUCS leagues as it would detract from effective preparation. Instead, we play an eclectic mix of other university sides, Premiership academies and Championship teams.
“In my last year, we played Hartpury College, Bristol A and Trinity College, Dublin and we beat them all.
???????? HOW TO WATCH | Tune in live on Thursday on @BBCSport (Women’s Red Button & Men’s BBC 2) plus both matches will be streamed lived on @YouTube, @EnglandRugby Facebook Live and across 70 countries. Check all the links and int’l broadcasters ?? https://t.co/MWu8qkcvPU pic.twitter.com/wTgfBJlsi5— The Varsity Match ?? (@VarsityMatch) December 4, 2018
So far this season, the Blues have travelled to Madagascar to take on their national team, taken on the Pacific Islanders RFC, the Army, Navy and even Canada.
Getting his first Blue at the age of 18, Wilson started at openside flanker and contributed to Oxford’s sixth successive win in the Varsity Match. It would be the only time that Wilson would taste victory in the fixture, but he does say that the following two losses put things into perspective for him.
“Winning on debut in 2015 as an 18-year-old was incredibly special, but losing my next two showed me that the match is less relevant than the journey leading up to it,” he said. “It’s a very binding experience, with like-minded people who end up becoming your closest friends.”
With the game always being played at Twickenham, Wilson says that the venue never intimidated him on the pitch: “Twickenham is an amazing place, but I found I didn’t really notice the crowd or anything else once the game started.
“I found it’s more important for the build-up, adding to the sense of occasion. It’s the best pitch I’ve ever played on, which was brilliant for giving us the confidence to play running rugby. Having said that, we had some excellent baths after we won in 2015!”
Wilson also had a fairly unique problem whilst at Oxford too. Representing England Sevens whilst still at the world-renowned university, he had to get a lot of work done to honour both his university and rugby commitments.
Both Oxford and Cambridge have named their squads for the @VarsityMatch which will take place at Twickenham next week...— Talking Rugby Union (@TalkRugbyUnion) November 27, 2018
But who will come out on top in the latest Battle of the Blues? #varsitymatch #unirugbyhttps://t.co/NIRMdHjEo2
??Matthew Impey, Wired Photos pic.twitter.com/0m3rHtgD23
“I managed to do three terms’ worth of work in two terms between the summer term of 2017 and the Easter term of 2018 to allow me to travel and play sevens, Wilson added. “I was very glad I put in the hard yards while in Oxford as, getting the books out while travelling was pretty futile. One essay written on the plane to Hong Kong!”
Despite now being at Wasps, Wilson still has an eye on his former England Sevens teammates: “I’m very jealous of the boys who get to run out all across the world, and loved watching them place well in Dubai. I can never get enough of watching Ollie Lindsay-Hague and Dan Norton’s stepping and pace.”
Transitioning back into 15-a-side rugby alongside his former England Sevens teammate Callum Sirker, Wilson sustained a torn labrum (shoulder) at the Prem 7s that has kept him out of action for nearly five months now.
“There’s a lot of back row competition at Wasps, from the established players like Thomas Young and Nizaam Carr, to the younger hugely talented guys like the Willis brothers,” said Wilson. “What with being injured, I’m not sure what a realistic ambition would be for me this year.”
Wilson, perhaps unsurprisingly, is excited for this week’s Varsity Match: “We have a reunion dinner every year before the Varsity Match, which I’m very excited to attend.”
Added to this, Wilson is extremely hopeful that Oxford will end their two-year losing run: “Cambridge are very confident and will always bring an intense physical edge, but I think Oxford will have enough quality to take the win this year. It’s been two long years!”