Varsity Match 2017: Perfect preparation for Cambridge University women
Head coach Jack Baird delighted with progress made
If the taste for tries is the ideal way to whet the appetite for the Varsity Match, then Cambridge University women’s team have had the perfect build-up.
In five matches in the BUCS League, Division 1A, they have scored 362 points, and conceded just seven. So it is almost like the complete antithesis of 12 months ago, when they lost the Varsity Match 3-0 to Oxford.
And the tries and points they are scoring this year are more than just coincidence.
“Our preparation this season is going well – a complete transformation to last season,” said head coach Jack Baird. “We have had a core group of players preparing and developing since our Tigers match victory back in March.
“Lara Gibson (the captain) has worked tirelessly on and off the pitch with her leadership and organisation.
“The players worked hard over the summer to build up their strength and fitness that has enabled us to start the season competitively.
“In terms of training, we have had 26 to 30 players training and playing on a regular basis, which has allowed us to develop a much higher standard of performance, which has often taken care of the result.
“The club continues to support our team positively in many ways. The most predominant element has been allowing our team use of the main pitch on a weekly basis.
“This has allowed our players to develop a better game understanding and the decisions that are required to support our principles of play around certain areas of the pitch.”
And so much of the preparation is in contrast to 12 months ago.
Last season, they were barely able to field 13 players in an away game away at Exeter, but this season they are sending 22 to games each week.
While training sessions were a juggling act that depended on who attended.
“On one hand, we had to develop new players rapidly to play in matches or run the risk of receiving BUCS League sanction,” said Baird.
“On the other hand, is the pressure to build a team to win a Varsity Match – it was incredibly tough for both players and coaches.”
But those issues have not been prevalent this season, and that has helped the team come together.
There is a strong core of experience, with 12 of the starting line-up being Blues, and while last year’s Varsity Match team had never played together before the big day, this season nearly everyone has played upwards of seven matches – either in friendlies, BUCS or BUCS Trophy.
“The amount of experience and quality across the whole team is exciting, especially as the combinations are more familiar with each other than they were last year,” said Baird. “We know the ‘Other Place’ have some good, experienced players that will do their best to challenge us in different ways.
“However, for us, we have the experience, we have the ability and if we stick to our principles of play, we will have a good chance of winning this year’s match.
“It is a decision-making game and our players have been challenged to read what they see in front of them and adapt to what is working and what is not working!
“Our training and match-play ethos is very much about making decisions, executing the skills necessary, supporting each other in the process and then evaluating their success individually and as a team.
“We aim to be unpredictable and the team will be ready to ‘change their stripes’ when required to do so.”