Joe Byrnes Interview: University rugby is now baked into the rugby public psyche - Hopefully this amplifies its reputation'

Joe Byrnes - along with colleague Dave Rogers - have presented and commentated on BUCS Super Rugby since it was formed back in 2016
©BUCS/Izzy Poles

Joe Byrnes has been there from the beginning.

From Sebastian Negri lifting Hartpury’s first title in 2017 to Loughborough University breaking their duck back in April, the presenter and commentator has seen it all when it comes to BUCS Super Rugby.

But now Byrnes is adding another strand to his ‘labour of love’.

On Friday, the top level of the student game is embarking on a new chapter in the form of the Rosslyn Park University Sevens.

“I just had this conversation with someone on WhatsApp and it marries my three great loves; student rugby, sevens and having a pint!” Byrnes, who is tournament director for the Rosslyn Park University Sevens, chuckles.  

“In terms of the alchemy of the event, there wouldn’t be one I’d put as much energy into just because this means so much. I consider myself very, very lucky to have been at the forefront of BUCS Super Rugby in its earliest days and able to ride that wave that I don’t think anybody saw coming.”

As he continues to dot the i’s and cross the t’s ahead of Friday’s event - which kicks off at 2:40pm at Rosslyn Park RFC - Byrnes reflects on the development and growth of BUCS Super Rugby and the player pathway it has created.

“I just think from my own angle, when I first started commentating and people said to me what did I commentate on, I said BUCS Super Rugby,” adds Byrnes.

“I’d then have to give a big, long explanation as to why it was credible and they should tune in because they didn’t know what it was. 

Tournament Infomation

  • 7th June at Rosslyn Park RFC, Priory Lane, SW15 5JH

  • Start: 2:40pm. Finals: 10pm

  • 8 of 10 BUCS Super Rugby teams taking part: Exeter, Durham, Loughborough, Bath, Hartpury, Cardiff Met, Swansea, Nottingham

  • 2 Pools of 4 Teams

  • Top two teams in Pool A and B go into the Cup

  • The 3rd and 4th ranked teams will go into the Plate

“Now if I say; ‘I do all the BUCS Super Rugby games’, people say they have seen it and it is amazing rugby or they have said they love that player from x, y, z university. People know about it now.

“I was really lucky to be there when Alex Dombrandt [Cardiff Met], Will Muir [Northumbria University] and the likes of those guys were tearing it up but no-one knew who they were and they have gone on to do amazing things.

Tom Pearson [Cardiff Met] and Will Muir are going to be in a Premiership final the next day down the road. That speaks volumes about the league.

“It means on Friday you might get to see the next generation of talent who might be playing for a Premiership club in not too many years because we have already seen the league is a pretty short hop from BUCS Super Rugby to top tier Premiership. Guys like Pearson and Muir are living, breathing examples of that.”

From a university rugby perspective, Dombrandt, Pearson, Muir - to name but a few - are very much icons of the student game. As Byrnes touches on, his mission is for the Rosslyn Park University Sevens to follow the same, successful route as BUCS Super Rugby has by unearthing hidden gems and providing opportunities and a pathway for the stars of the future.

And a way of potentially establishing this has been highlighted by the partnership RPU7s has struck with Great Britain Sevens.

GB selectors will attend Rosslyn Park on Friday and will be looking to select five to seven players to cap internationally on the Rugby Europe circuit this summer.

Tapping into the array of talent within university rugby was a no-brainer for Team GB.

“I have got a long association with GB players, particularly Tom Mitchell, the former captain,” Byrnes says. "I approached him and I said if we had a player of the tournament, could the reward potentially be that they get to come in a train with GB? 

“He took it to GB, they had a think about it and they came back and they believed in the concept. They wanted to have a better pathway for these universities because they recognise the talent. 

“I guess it is the perfect storm of GB wanting to carve out a clearer pathway, GB needing some players and this tournament arriving at the right time. I guess a slice of good fortune but also a bigger slice of people thinking with an open mind and thinking about the future and how this can be more than just a ‘one-hit wonder’ tournament. 

"It can be something that is in the calendar and genuinely meaningful to the prospects of GB7s and their players for years to come. What this represents is a clear, defined, tangible route to get noticed and to get an opportunity with GB.”

And in Byrnes’ mind, the rewards from a standout showing on Friday could be as big as representing Team GB at the 2028 Olympic Games in Los Angeles.

Already, Bath University’s Austin Emens has pulled on the GB7s jersey having played and scored on the HSBC SVNS circuit this season. The hope is that RPU7s can open the door for more emerging stars to do the same. 

The rise of BUCS Super Rugby undoubtedly played a part in GB sitting up and taking notice of the talent within student rugby and while Friday presents an opportunity for the players themselves to shine, it is also a chance for the universities to showcase their own institutions.

With spectators expected to consist of high school students and parents weighing up options in terms of further education, Byrnes feels RPU7s could resonate with them and potentially influence their thinking.

“It is a long time ago but I remember weighing up university options!” Byrnes adds. “What I would say to 16/17 years olds thinking about that next step in their rugby/education journey, is come down, pay a fiver, see the best university talent in the country and you can go and chat to the coaches. All the DoRs are going to be there. 

“They are going to be very receptive to speaking to children and parents alike and you can get a sense of seeing the action in the flesh and what university rugby looks like. It might sway your opinion which would be amazing.”

The talent on the pitch alone might be enough to win over and energise any prospective students with the likes of Exeter University flyer Benjiy Joseland set to be involved while names such as Boris Ames [Durham] and Iwan Pyrs-Jones [Hartpury and has previously represented Wales on the World Sevens Series] are players to look out for.

“You could throw a dart at these teamsheets and you are going to hit some star names,” Byrnes adds.

Following the competition’s inaugural outing on Friday, Byrnes’ vision is, of course, for RPU7s to grow over the next few years.

This will hopefully incorporate the BUCS Women’s National League (something they weren’t able to do this year due to Women’s Under-20 Six Nations camps falling this weekend) as well as recruiting all 10 BUCS Super Rugby teams and potentially introducing an 'all-star alumni' side.

But for now, eight of the top 10 BUCS Super Rugby universities will descend on Rosslyn Park and having been a constant throughout the progression of student rugby over the last decade, it is no surprise that Byrnes is heavily involved in what many hope will be another successful evolution of the university game.

“I can’t take all the credit for the creation of what I hope will be a successful event on Friday because it came from Andy Higgins who is the tournament director of the Rosslyn Park Schools 7s.

"Andy approached me and he felt I was equipped to get the teams on board. I have to say a big thank you to them [the eight competing universities] for taking a risk on what is an unknown event and an unknown concept. They believe in the idea of showcasing BSR.

"University rugby and the success of BUCS Super Rugby means it is kind of baked into the rugby public psyche now and hopefully this is one more event, one more competition that amplifies its reputation.”

For more tournament information, visit

BUY YOUR TICKETS HEREU18s - £5, Students - £10 (Student ID must be presented on entry), Adults - £15.