Featured image credit: CCSU

Varsity rugby 2023: The background and the build up

It’s a historic year for varsity as reaches it’s 25th year. Although it wasn’t always how we know it today, the original was just men’s rugby.

It all began in the summer of 1998 when then Vice President of the Student Union, Ian Blackmore received a fax from charity Oxfam who wanted to use local university rivalries to expand varsity rugby from just Oxbridge and raise money for charity.

Ex-Canterbury Christ Church University (CCCU) rugby captain, Blackmore leapt at the idea to increase the rivalry with the University of Kent (UKC) and put in the groundwork before handing it off to his successor, Dominic Sutton who was tasked with realising the ambition in Feb 1999.

It all came down to a match in classically bad weather under the floodlights at Canterbury rugby club. CCCU entered as the underdogs but were able to pull off a historic victory.

C4 celebrate victory in rugby with two-time winning captain Benn Smith hoisting the tiger trophy high. Image credit: Richard Budden

The event was even marked by a trophy presentation for the winner. The Prince of Wales Royal regiment, nicknamed the tiger, gifted the trophy that is still used at varsity to this day.

C4 was able to achieve victory in the first two varsities but since then UKC has taken over. Due to Covid, there was no varsity in 2021 so the 25th year sees the 24th game and a chance for CCCU to level the series at 12-12.

Despite some losses there have been some historic CCCU victories, including in 2004 and 2005 when captain Benn Smith became the first to have captained more than one varsity victory.

The feat wouldn’t be repeated until Charlie Precious in 2013-14 and Edward Ellson in 2017-18.

It’s been one of our best seasons yet!

Michael Combrink – Men’s rugby captain

Men’s rugby this year will look to emulate the success of their past teams and after a strong BUCS season, that saw them crowned league champions, there are high hopes of bringing their first win since 2018.

Captain Michael Combrink, who is playing his last game for CCCU, said team spirit is strong.

“We are incredibly motivated, it’s been a season where we’ve not just played rugby but come together, gelled really well and I think it’s one of our best seasons ever.

“We may be the underdogs, but we are confident and have a gameplan and we want to show Kent that we have come a long way.”

Varsity as we know it was not formed until 2002 when sports sabbatical officer John Bloomfield aided the expansion of varsity to include 12 sports. This version has never seen CCCU as its overall winner, with them coming closest in 2010 where they lost by just two points.

Women’s rugby joined the sporting rivalry in 2005 and has seen great success at varsity with a winning series record of 11-5.

Captain Ollie Andrews, who makes her varsity debut after an injury in her first year saw her sidelined, said nerves are high but we want to win.

“The season has been very successful, especially the second half, the team ethos has grown which is great to see.

“Everyone’s feeling nervous but the squad is together and I’m feeling really positive about everything.”

The rivalry remains high and it is sure to be fierce competition on the pitch. However, Blackmore added that Canterbury will always really belong to Christ Church.

“We (CCCU) were founded in ‘(19)62’, whereas they were in ‘(19)65’ and we are actually in the city, if you look at it they are closer to Blean than Canterbury.”

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