Cambridge prepares for Steele-Bodger match
Former Cambridge University coach Tony Rodgers ready for annual rugby showpiece
It is a fixture that has been going since 1948 and yet it remains so popular that this year’s event could even set a new attendance record.
The annual Cambridge University Rugby team’s clash against a Micky Steele-Bodger XV remains one of the showcase events in the Cambridge calendar.
A week today, the city will, almost certainly, shut down for the afternoon as businesses, clients and rugby fans converge on Grange Park to watch the latest crop of Cambridge Light Blues go through their paces ahead of the all-important Varsity game at Twickenham next month.
It has been the same since the fixture was first played in 1948 and for one man it remains a magical event and not just for rugby.
Tony Rodgers studied at Trinity Hall and played in the 1968, 1969 and 1970 Varsity matches for the Light Blues.
After graduating, the lock-forward went on to play at Rosslyn Park, represented the Barbarians and worked as a surveyor at the University.
He took over as coach at CURUFC in 1980 and was at the helm for more than 30 years, inspiring the Light Blues to some of their most famous Varsity victories.
Now retired, he remains a key figure at Grange Road and will be at Twickenham on December 8 for the Varsity game - wearing his trusted duffle coat.
“It has always been a big game,” declared Tony, who has even played for Micky Steele-Bodger’s side on at least 10 occasions.
“You don’t get the big names now but you get some up and coming youngsters.
“I am amazed Micky still manages to get a side together to come and play. It is very difficult these days but he has got a lot of links with different clubs.
“But year-in and year-out he manages to do it. He was first asked to get a side together in 1948 and is always the last match before the Varsity game.
“I’ve even turned out for the Bodger XV. I’ve always lived in Cambridge and he used to ask me to wear the jersey now and again, I think I may have played as many as 10 times.
“It was fine playing against Cambridge as the young lads always wanted to get one over on us and we were the same.”
Steele-Bodger, now 91 and a retired vet, captained Cambridge in 1946 and won nine caps for England before a knee injury ended his playing career. He wanted to do something extra special with the warm-up game and the traditions have remained in tact throughout the decades.
“Micky always wanted to make it a special occasion,” added Tony. “He thought he would do something different and that meant having a nice dinner after the game in a college.
“The game has changed dramatically over the years but the atmosphere, especially if it is a nice winter’s day, is fantastic.
“It is a great event, and businesses like to take their clients out and make it a day for them. Firms book a table for the following year the very next day after a game.
“They want to make sure they get a table as it is the place to be at. It is amazing. This year there could be a record attendance, there could be as many as 4,000 plus.
“It is a great occasion and it is tradition that is driving it. It is an entertaining day.”
But there is a serious side to it as well. It is the University side’s lasts game before the Varsity clash against old rivals Oxford.
It is also the final chance for players to convince the coach James Shanahan they are worthy of a place in the Varsity side.
“It gets a big tense around this time of year,” explained Tony. “It is the last chance to stake a claim for a place in the side.
“The outcome of the Varsity game is too tight to call. Oxford are organised and have a competitive pack. But Cambridge are coming on and have a good back row. Hopefully it will all come together on the day but I would say the outcome is on a knife-edge.”