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Varsity Match 2022: Tabbie Brough aims for double delight in Cambridge University swansong

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Tabitha Brough in action for Cambridge University RUFC. Picture: Chris Fell (55655381)
Tabitha Brough in action for Cambridge University RUFC. Picture: Chris Fell (55655381)

You could make a case that Tabbie Brough has relished being a centre of attention this academic year.

It’s nothing to do with character traits or flamboyance, but all to do with earning two Blues.

The 24-year-old Queens’ College final-year medic will line up for Cambridge University at inside centre in the Varsity Match against Oxford on Saturday, having already earned a Blue for the university netball team this season.

Brough is a former captain of the Light Blues netball side, which was in her fourth year, and plays wing defence or centre, and after five years of trying, has earned a Blue with the squad after helping them to promotion to the top Midlands league.

The awarding of a Blue in netball is very different to rugby union.

“You have to either be promoted into the first league or be in and stay in the first league in that season and we haven’t done that in my whole time at Cambridge until this year,” says Brough. “It’s been a big year.”

It has meant that demands between the two camps – netball and rugby union – have had to be prioritised.

“Both teams have been really great and understood that it has had to be a compromise between the two,” explains Brough.

“It’s been tactical about which games I play so, for example, with netball we were focusing on the league this year so I could not play the cup games or would play a rugby match then go and sit on the bench in case they needed someone to come on.

“It was more of a tactical thing of which games people needed me for.”

Tabitha Brough in action for Cambridge University RUFC. Picture: Chris Fell (55655372)
Tabitha Brough in action for Cambridge University RUFC. Picture: Chris Fell (55655372)

That was not Brough’s first Blue, though.

Having played netball for the first two years at Cambridge, she did both sports in her third year.

CURUFC head coach Jack Baird was looking for new players, and a mutual contact suggested Brough may be interested.

She attended a few training sessions, and it was an instant match with the hand/eye coordination being an immediately transferable skill.

“I think it cannot be understated how important that is in the transition from netball to rugby,” says Brough.

“They are actually really similar sports. I think gauging where the space is and knowing where your team-mates are and the hand/eye coordination are the core aspects which translate really nicely over.”

Months later, in 2018, Brough was selected as a replacement to face Oxford at Twickenham.

“It was actually quite indescribable,” she says. “Most England women don’t get to play at Twickenham. It was hard to fathom at the time, especially not playing that much rugby before but having watched a lot of rugby so I knew how insane it was as an opportunity.”

It turned out to be a great day for the Light Blues as Emily Pratt’s try and Alice Elgar’s penalty clinched an 8-5 win, but when Brough stepped off the bench there was still a lot of work to do.

“It was a real nailbiter,” she says. “They were attacking down my wing in the last 10 minutes of the game, it was absolutely terrifying but we managed to hold them off!”

Tabitha Brough in action for Cambridge University RUFC. Picture: Chris Fell (55655387)
Tabitha Brough in action for Cambridge University RUFC. Picture: Chris Fell (55655387)

After two years with just the netball squad, Brough decided to combine the two again, in what is her final year at Cambridge.

But it is perhaps no surprise that she is able to make such an easy transition between the disciplines, given the sporting gene that clearly runs through the family.

Her father was a squash Blue at Cambridge, her mother played rugby before having to stop after breaking five ribs in a game, her sister plays rugby, her brother is a triathlete and rower who has also done the six-day, 250km Marathon Des Sables in the Sahara Desert, and her grandfather hurdled for Scotland.

“Everyone has got their own niche,” she says of the family.

“There are lots of different bits to it and everyone appreciates sport which is really nice for me because this achievement of being selected was taken very seriously.

“Some people you say to you are playing in the Varsity Match at Twickenham and they don’t know what that means, but for my family they really did appreciate that it is an unbelievable opportunity.”

It will bring to a hectic conclusion a memorable time at Cambridge, which would be topped off with a win at Twickenham.

Brough adds: “Both Varsity Matches were this term, the big matches for netball to get the Blue were this term and all my exams as well – it’s been quite crazy.”

Read more:

Women’s Varsity Match 2022: Laura Bleehen names dozen Blues in Cambridge University squad to face Oxford at Twickenham

Varsity Match 2022: Former England and Newcastle Falcons fly-half Toby Flood to line-up for Cambridge University to face Oxford

Varsity Match 2022: One-off game brings new experience for former England fly-half Toby Flood with Cambridge University

Varsity Match 2022: Running style chimes a chord for Emily Bell in new role for Cambridge University RUFC

Varsity Match 2022: Brother and sister Charlie and Hetta are the best of Friends creating history for Cambridge University

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