Mattioli Woods Welford Road, home of Leicester Tigers, will host the Varsity Matches between Oxford and Cambridge this summer.
Sunday, July 4 has been chosen as the new date for the annual ‘Battle of the Blues’ with the four team captains now preparing to lead out their teams at Tigers.
This year was supposed to have been the 100th anniversary of the first men’s Varsity Match played at Twickenham but, due to Covid restrictions, it has not been possible.
Instead, Oxford’s captains Fiona Kennedy and George Messum, and Cambridge duo Elisha Clark and Stephen Leonard, have agreed to take their games from Twickenham to Leicester.
The switch to Leicester’s iconic stadium, which is equidistant between the two universities, is seen as the best solution in the circumstances given likely restrictions on numbers.
The shift of date to the summer is in line with the RFU’s current ‘return to rugby’ plan and will give the students sufficient training and playing time in the build-up to the Varsity Matches.
Leicester Tigers chairman Peter Tom CBE said: “Mattioli Woods Welford Road is an iconic home of rugby and we are delighted to be able to host an iconic fixture at our home stadium.
“Getting people into the stadium to enjoy their rugby is why we are here and to be able to host such a prestigious match and welcome a large crowd is an exciting opportunity for Tigers and the rugby community in the East Midlands and beyond, especially in these challenging times.
“The Tigers have had a number of players and coaches down the years who have also earned a Blue and it will be an honour for the club to welcome Oxford and Cambridge to Leicester.”
Tim Jones, Chairman of the Varsity Match Company Ltd: “With all the uncertainty surrounding amateur contact sport, and the return to play for rugby at student level, everyone is delighted to have agreed the date and venue for the Varsity Matches.
“We all know that the path of the pandemic is unpredictable and the Government’s roadmap may change. However, with the progress of the vaccine programme we are hopeful that we will be able to stage the matches in front of some spectators.
“The Varsity Match has an incredible history and, we believe, remains the pinnacle of amateur rugby. It retains a strong following and continues to provide a vital financial lifeline to both Clubs.”
Cambridge won 15-0 in front of a Twickenham crowd of 22,863 in the men’s match last year to move into a 64-60 lead in a series that dates back to 1872. Cambridge also won the women’s match 8-5 to complete a Light Blue double.
Both men’s captains have been appointed for a second season in charge of their respective teams. Stephen Leonard captained the Light Blues last season, while George Messum was the Oxford captain in 2015.
Cambridge men’s captain Stephen Leonard said: “We’re all very aware of the hardships that everyone is experiencing in these difficult times and both George and I felt we had to find the least worst solution for the players. Playing the matches after exams is not ideal, but at least we get a chance to defend our title in a stadium steeped in rugby history.”
George Messum, Oxford men’s captain, added: "Our squad is delighted at the news we will be playing the matches on July 4 at Mattioli Woods Welford Road, a true rugby stadium. We have been working individually and collectively over the last year to prepare for this match, with today being an important milestone in that becoming a reality. We know that our Dark Blue supporters will be out in full force and we as a group look forward to expressing the sacrifice and hard work that has been achieved, which has brought us together during the pandemic."
The women’s teams both elected new leaders for this season and Cambridge’s Elisha Clark is hoping her side can make it four wins in a row for only the second time in the history of an event that dates back to 1988.
She said: “We all want our players to have the best chance to prepare properly for a match that is like no other in terms of its history and significance to both teams and their supporters. For most of the players, their biggest concern at the moment is ‘When will they be able to get back onto campus and back to lectures?’ We also hope we will be able to welcome our supporters to the game at what is another great rugby venue.”
Fiona Kennedy, the Oxford women’s captain, commented: “The Dark Blues are delighted to have the opportunity to run out at this prestigious rugby stadium, and we welcome the extra preparation time that moving the Varsity Matches to the summer allows. We are determined to prepare and perform for this exciting fixture to the best of our ability, despite the significant disruption the pandemic has had in all walks of life.”