Varsity Match 2022: Running style chimes a chord for Emily Bell in new role for Cambridge University RUFC
There is something infectious about the energy of Emily Bell.
Sitting in the bar at Cambridge University RUFC’s Grange Road, it felt like the 19-year-old was having to be restrained from bursting outside, picking up a ball and joining in the training session taking place on the pitch.
Bell described her approach as chaotic but it felt much more like someone who just loves life and you could not help but get drawn in by the enthusiasm.
As the Fitzwilliam College student talks of moving from outside centre, where she earned a first Blue last year, to full-back, you could understand how that bit more freedom on the pitch has paid dividends.
“Ball distributor is not my vibe, I like to get the ball and just run, having people trying to tackle me and fending them off,” Bell declares.
“It’s really insane but I love the pressure that full-back brings, knowing it is just you. You have to make that tackle, I love having to make that last tackle.
“When they said, ‘You’re playing full-back, how do you feel about that?’ I was like, ‘Yes, give it to me’. I love it, I love playing in the full-back shirt.
“I’ve got energy in abundance. I’m able to see everything at the back, what’s happening, and screaming to everyone. It’s great, I really do enjoy it.”
Bell arrived at Grange Road last year as a fresher, studying an MML in French and Spanish. She already possessed a wealth of rugby experience – sometimes a rarity for Cambridge – having taken up the sport aged 14.
“My local club, Sutton & Epsom, came to my school as an after-school club, and I remember thinking violence, yes!” she jokes.
“I’ve always been very energetic but not necessarily into a particular sport growing up, like dance or football or gymnastics from a young age.
“I decided to join the club, and have been doing it ever since. We can say it now that women’s rugby is increasing rapidly, and I think it was that start where it was really building. There were a lot of clubs that had young women so I did manage to play a lot of games and tournaments.”
Coming to study at Cambridge was not initially on Bell’s radar when studying at St Philomena’s Catholic High School for Girls.
It only became an idea when a Spanish teacher, who was also the head of sixth form, suggested she look at Target Oxbridge, a programme that aims to help black African and Caribbean students and students of mixed race with black African and Caribbean heritage increase their chances of getting into Oxford or Cambridge. Even then, it was almost an after-thought.
“I remember applying to that at the last minute,” says Bell. “If the deadline was midnight, I was at 11.59pm. I wasn’t thinking I would get into it, it seemed like it wasn’t for me.
“I applied and got an interview for it, and then got onto Target Oxbridge, so they really helped me to apply to Cambridge. I literally just got swished along with the wave of applying through Target Oxbridge and it was successful.”
She talks passionately about studying languages, and a sign of her effervescent character comes when explaining why it appeals so much, and the reasoning is brilliant.
“I fell in love with language classes because they were the classes where we would stand up and learn vocab through actions, and I really just enjoyed them,” she says simply.
“I also love to chat, and chatting in French and Spanish is such a bonus. I wish it was something deeper or profound, literature, but no, I just love chatting!”
Bell has relished being swept up in everything that Cambridge has to offer. It was quite some whirlwind last year as the Covid pandemic and the return to rugby rules, including the adapted laws, meant the Varsity Match was played at Leicester Tigers’ Welford Road.
And the then 18-year-old’s prior rugby experience meant she found herself partnering 30-year-old match winner Maggie Simpson in the centres in just her third game for Cambridge, something she describes as “mind boggling”.
“I have a lot of energy and very am chaotic, but really deep in things that are intense,” explains Bell.
“It wasn’t until they called out Cambridge, and I stepped on that pitch, and my tummy went. That was when I fully felt the weight of the pressure.
“You have that first phase, and you think ‘this is just a game of rugby, let’s just play. It means a lot, but let’s just play our hearts out’.”
That they did, securing a 10-5 win.
She will earn a second Blue on Saturday, in what will be a first trip in any capacity to Twickenham.
“It’s just massive,” adds Bell. “England play there, and in my head I’m still little old me who picked up a rugby ball randomly in Year 9 and just likes to have a throw-about with my mates.”