New Cambridge University RUFC women's captain Elisha Clark wants to keep Light Blues thriving n build up to 2020 Varsity Match
Elisha Clark has become the epitome of the development nature of Cambridge University RUFC having been elected captain of the women’s team.
The St John’s College medical student has progressed incrementally to take on the mantle of Light Blues skipper leading into the 2020 Varsity Match.
“I played my first Tigers match, the next year I was on the Varsity bench, then I captained the Tigers, played in Varsity and now I’m captain of the Blues. It’s step by step climbing up the teams,” says Clark.
Her first introduction to rugby union was in her third year at Cambridge, although she had a strong sporting foundation before then fuelled by sibling rivalry.
Clark becomes the second twin in a row to lead the Light Blues, taking the reins from Fi Shuttleworth, and it was that early competition that spurred her on.
“I’ve got a twin brother so you’ve got to adapt. He’s getting bigger and stronger so I wanted to be bigger and stronger. Anything he did, I wanted to do,” says Clark.
“I did football, I did karate, I did judo for two years. I started off doing ice skating, but didn’t like that. I did dance, then he did dance. The coaches loved him more because he was one of the only boys.
“So I thought ‘I’m not doing that anymore’, I’ll do judo because you do judo. It was competitive but it’s good, I think, to have someone to compete with you physically, growing up, and it helped me because I was really sporty when I was younger.”
Clark had played rugby league with Hull FC Ladies before coming to Cambridge, but it was only in her third year that she headed to Grange Road for a development day.
The natural sporting ability must have stood out, as she was invited by head coach Jack Baird to start training with the Blues.
It led to the 22-year-old being selected for the second team, the Tigers, Varsity Match.
“I remember playing my first Tigers match and thinking, ‘this is good because you’ve got the crowd, you’re against the Other Place, you get to keep the shirt’ and a lot of the same processes that we go into the Varsity Match with, we do for Tigers as well,” says fly-half Clark.
“So going from Tigers to the Varsity Match bench for the Blues, a lot of it was quite familiar for me. It’s just the next level up, playing at Twickenham and the crowd is a lot bigger.
“The good thing about this team is there is clear communication at every stage of the process. You know you can go to the captain or the coaches for help, and other players are always willing to give feedback.”
Clark’s role at No 10, and the leadership demands of the position, persuaded her to stand for the captaincy and it is at a time when women’s rugby at the university is going from strength to strength.
When she first started with the Blues, there was a squad of around 25 players, but now they have more than 60 at training and last week had a third team, the Jaguars, Varsity Match for the first time, which Cambridge won.
“It’s been incredible,” says Clark. “I never thought it would become as big as it has in such a short space of time.
“Bryony (Warnock-Horn), our development officer, worked really hard and there are lots of ways girls can get involved at so many different levels. We still run our development days and taster sessions, but it’s now at the level where girls are hearing about it through word of mouth and advertising is a lot better.
“I think because women’s rugby is growing as a sport, more girls are hearing about it like that and are thinking ‘I can get involved’.”
Another first will be achieved next season when Cambridge will enter a second team into the British Universities & Colleges Sport leagues.
And Clark added: “I think making sure and fighting for – as a sport and a team – equal opportunities, equal advertisement, is something I’m really going to focus on next year to keep developing it as a university sport.”
One thing that stands out is that Clark will be captain during her sixth and final year, a feat not often taken on by medics or veterinary students.
“I think with me joining a bit later in my third year, it took me until now to get to the level in terms of physicality and mentality to be able to think I can lead this team now,” she says.
“It’s a big step and our exams this year are two days before Varsity. I’m going to graft then, smash those out and then get the coach down.
“It’s going to be an intense week, with finals and the Varsity Match.”