After scoring a hat-trick of tries at Twickenham, in the first Women’s Varsity Match to be played at England Rugby HQ, one might think things could not get any better for Alice Middleton.
The Light Blues’ full back completed a memorable fifteen-minute spell last December by rounding almost the entire Oxford defence to slide over the whitewash, scoring her third try and sealing the game for Cambridge in the process.
Twelve months on and Middleton has the ultimate honour: leading the Cambridge team, as captain, for the 30th instalment of the Women’s Varsity against Oxford.
The graduate medical student could not be more excited to captain the squad of twenty-three on December 8th:
“It really is such an honour,” she said, “To be captain of Cambridge University adds that extra pride, because playing rugby here is special. I know how much work and dedication goes into the rugby club, from the players to the support staff. To be the captain of the playing team on the day will be extremely exciting.”
Middleton was keen to stress the inclusive nature of the Rugby Club, a point also made repeatedly by her predecessor as Light Blues’ skipper, the Canadian Nikki Weckman.
The 27-year-old said “The whole squad is important, not just those who start the game. It’s a really inclusive environment and we represent everyone associated with the club.”
The Light Blues have endured something of a mixed season in the BUCS Premier South to-date, including the concession of 164 points combined, without reply, in away defeats to Exeter and Cardiff this term. Middleton, however, remains unperturbed by such defeats and even believes the difficult days strengthen the resolve of her squad.
“We have had a run of heavy defeats away from home,” she reflected.
“It’s not easy, because many of them were long days, leaving Cambridge at six o’clock, arriving for a two o’clock kick-off and not getting home until nine at night. But we’ve got something from all our games, whether learning about our defence or working on our positioning. We’ve learnt good lessons.”
On a more positive note, a 22-0 league victory against Oxford was secured at Grange Road earlier this term, giving the Light Blues early bragging rights before the big day at Twickenham.
Middleton, based at Lucy Cavendish College, believes that the result was important, but will not necessarily matter in ten days’ time.
“The Oxford game was a great opportunity to test each other and was great to win, but they had a few players missing and, despite being underdogs, will have fire in their bellies at Twickenham,” she said.
“We have the confidence and enter the game as favourites, but the psychology at Twickenham is different….it will still be a tough game.”
On a personal level, Middleton, who originally played football, before taking up rugby in London whilst completing her first degree, hopes to repeat her extraordinary success from last year, despite the scale of that task.
Nevertheless, the Stevenage-born captain will relish playing on the biggest stage, whether she scores another hat-trick or not.
“I can’t imagine any scenario where it would be disappointing to play at Twickenham,” stated Middleton.
“It would be nice to live up to last year, but the plan is to play good rugby….and the main expectation is that, as a team, we get what we want to get from the game.
“If I can get a try, or even three, so much the better!”
Middleton will also be hoping that her squad, packed with experienced campaigners and returning Blues, can assist the younger members of the team in dealing with the nerves before the game.
“We have got players who have been there and done it at Twickenham, which is so important. We have also arranged meetings with the girls who played last year to discuss their experiences. Ultimately, we have to channel the adrenaline and the nerves, because at the end of the day it’s the same game [rugby] and we don’t need to do anything different just because we’re playing at Twickenham.”
After the 52-0 victory for Cambridge in last year’s Women’s Varsity Match, December will see just the second staging of the fixture at Twickenham, something Middleton sees as vitally important in giving exposure to the women’s game.
“It’s so important,” said Middleton, “There is no reason why the game shouldn’t be played on the same pitch as the men. It’s important beyond university level too, with the England Women also getting to play their Autumn Internationals at Twickenham.
“The more that women’s rugby can take place there the better, it gives women’s sport much greater exposure, which can only be a positive thing.”
Middleton’s team will thus be hoping to secure a third consecutive victory over the old enemy, Oxford, next Thursday.
Any semblance of a repeat performance from their captain, and a Light Blue victory will be almost unstoppable.
Numbers Game – Charles Martland’s Varsity Match Stats
99: Unanswered points scored by Cambridge in their last two Varsity Match victories.
11: Wins for Cambridge in 29 Women’s Varsity fixtures.
17%: The Light Blues’ win percentage in BUCS Premier South, although their sole victory did come against Oxford.
52: Last year’s 52-0 drubbing of Oxford was the highest margin of victory in the history of Women’s Varsity.
2: Hat-tricks in the 2015 fixture, scored by Anna Wilson and Alice Middleton.