Varsity veteran Ben Woods says “everything comes down to one game” when the university teams from Oxford and Cambridge meet at Mattioli Woods Welford Road on Sunday, July 4.
Former Leicester Tigers back-rower Woods, a Heineken Cup Final tryscorer against Leinster in 2009, played for Cambridge University in the 2003 edition at Twickenham just weeks after England's Rugby World Cup win in Australia and will be back to watch this year’s contest.
“It was unlike anything I had ever been involved in at that stage,” said Woods who went to Cambridge as a post-graduate Law student.
“It doesn’t matter what happens before that in your other games, if you win your Varsity game it’s a good year. Everything come down to one game.
“You feel that right from day one – you’re aware of the history of it.
“We were massive underdogs in my year because we hadn’t had a great year, but got a draw with a fantastic score in the corner. Cambridge had won the year before so it was deemed a ‘winning draw’ and we lifted the trophy and got to celebrate like we’d won.”
The traditions of a game which dates back nearly 150 years are all part of the build-up too.
“Most guys have an awareness of Varsity just from seeing it on television but it’s not until you go there that you see the things that set it apart,” Woods added.
“Rugby is professional at the top end but there are not many places you get that level of rugby and the attention that goes with it in an amateur environment.
“The Cambridge ground at Grange Road has every Varsity team on a plaque so you see the history and the lineage right back to the very start. You see those names and want to get there too.
“I remember the build-up and the day really well. There is a lot of stuff before, a lot of the traditions, including the captain riding around the colleges on his bike to tell you whether you are in or not.
“You get the president of the rugby club and an old Blue comes in to speak to you about what it means to be a Cambridge student playing in that game.
“I still follow it, I go to the game most years for a bit of a reunion. The really good thing I found is that you end up knowing guys who you never played with before. You know guys two or three years above you and a few in the years below and have that camaraderie because you’ve all been through similar things.
“Not many teams have the same focal point of that one game each year. It is one guaranteed big game every year and something to cheer for. There is so much pressure on it. We had guys who had been trying for 4-5 years to get their Blue, it is a really big thing.”
Tickets for this year’s edition when Mattioli Woods Welford Road hosts the women’s and men’s fixtures (1.00pm and 3.30pm) between Oxford and Cambridge universities are available now. Book online or phone the Tigers ticket office on 0116 319 8888 (option 2).
There is also the option of livestream coverage available if you are unable to travel to the game. Click here for details.