Alice Middleton thriving in developing sport
Light Blues skipper blossoming
Twickenham opened its doors to the Women’s Varsity Match for the first time last year, and the players of Cambridge University did not need to be asked twice to show that they were at home on the hallowed turf.
The Light Blues cut through their Oxford rivals with ease on their way to a crushing 52-0 win last December.
And it was perhaps fitting that prominent in that rout was Alice Middleton, who along with Anna Wilson scored a hat-trick of tries at England rugby’s HQ.
The 27-year-old Lucy Cavendish College postgraduate exudes everything that is positive about women’s rugby, talking with a real passion about the game, what it can provide and the direction in which it is heading.
Eloquently spoken, but dynamic in deed, graduate medicine student Middleton seems to be the perfect choice as Cambridge University’s captain this season.
As a relatively new convert to women’s rugby, her route seems to symbolise the progression of the sport in recent years as it was in the final year of her first degree in London that Middleton started playing.
“I tried early on in the degree but the rugby team at my uni folded because there weren’t enough people,” she said.
“It finally got going in the last year and we combined with a local team to get enough numbers for both them and us, and it went from there.
“I moved to Cambridge and started playing with Shelford, who I still have lots of contact with. It was from there that I built my love for rugby.
“Access to the women’s game is huge. Our development days have grown so much in the past few years.
“In the first few years, they had 10s of people, last season we had 80 people turning up to these development days which I think is attributed to just the fact that it’s more out there that women’s rugby is a sport that’s growing and up and coming.
“You see it at the Olympics, you saw us win the World Cup in 2014, and it’s just really got a lot of momentum behind it.
“And now I talk to girls at school and they’re doing it, whereas when I was at school we played with the boys a little bit up until the age where you’re allowed and that was it, so I went back to football.
“There were no local teams where I was that played rugby so it just wasn’t an option, but there’s more options now.”
Middleton, who first captained the Light Blues in a friendly match on International Women’s Day at Grange Road last year, had debated pursuing the football route before committing to rugby.
“I think because I had that point where I was deciding between the two – and it really didn’t take me very long to choose rugby for so many reasons – that’s what gives me passion to then show other people the things you can gain from rugby.
“You have to put your body on the line to protect your other players and you have to commit and get up close and personal in a different way then you ever do in other sports.
“And I think that sort of thing adds so much to the social side and the friendships that you get from rugby.
“That and the fact that just as a sport it’s fantastic.
Middleton admits that she does not have vast amounts of experience as a captain, but she hails the strength of the club’s leadership team as they prepare to take on the Dark Blues on December 8.
“I’ve been playing rugby for four or five years now, but it’s been a huge learning curve the whole way and I’ve just been developing my rugby skills, rugby knowledge and decision making all the way along,” she said.
“Hopefully I’ve got some of the character attributes that suit the position and importantly, people were keen for me to do it which is key because then you know you’ve got support behind you which is one of the most important things.
“And I’ve got a strong committee behind me as well and a really strong vice-captain, Jess Charlton.
“She is a really strong runner, amazing tackler, great experience and she’s been playing rugby since she was a young girl.
“And she is a forward as well. It’s really important to have that strong leadership in the forwards because at full-back of course, you are quite far away from what’s happening up there.
“So that puts us in a really strong position as a leadership team.”