Playing for Cambridge in the Varsity Match is becoming a bit old hat for Alice Elgar. If she comes off the bench at the Mattioli Woods Welford Road Stadium on Sunday, 4 July, she will win her sixth Blue.
Not bad for someone who had never played rugby before heading to Girton College to study veterinary medicine back in 2015. These days lauded as one of the veteran ladies of Light Blue rugby, she will be one short of the record seven Blues won by both Will Briggs and Jess Gurney in 2017.
There was no girls’ rugby team at her school, South Wilts Grammar, nor at her local rugby club, Salisbury RFC, yet Alice grew up watching rugby on TV with her Dad and always wanted to play the game.
When she arrived at Cambridge she was given her chance . . . and took it! In only her second competitive match she found herself playing in the back row against Oxford at the home of English rugby, Twickenham.
“I always wanted to play rugby, but never got the chance when I was growing up. I played a lot of other sports – football, hockey, cricket and a bit of tag rugby – and I was determined to give it a go when I arrived at Cambridge,” said Alice.
“When I got there it was great to find the college putting on rugby taster sessions for the Freshers. They weren’t just for the boys and I found myself being invited to the development day for the Cambridge Women’s squad.
“I loved it, had great fun and was delighted when the coach asked me if I’d like to train with the University team. Because of work commitments I wasn’t able to play with the team until a week or so before the Varsity Match.
“We played the University of South Wales and won by more than 100 points. After that I got picked for the Varsity Match and found myself walking out at Twickenham in only my second full game of rugby.”
Cambridge won that historic first clash with Oxford at the home of English rugby 52-0, leaving Alice to wonder if there was anything at all difficult about playing rugby! A year later she found out, when Oxford got their revenge with a 3-0 win.
What her story proves is that rugby is now providing huge opportunities for young women. At both Oxford and Cambridge there is the added bonus of pushing for the chance to play at Twickenham, but that there so much more to it than that.
“Rugby has become a huge part of my life at Cambridge. I am studying on a pretty busy course and rugby allows me to get away from it all and have a bit of fun,” added Alice.
“It also provides me with a wonderful support network. The team culture is a huge part of the attraction and we all love spending time in each other’s company, whether we are training, playing or socialising.
“The numbers playing the game are growing every year and the standard keeps on rising. I certainly wasn’t confident of getting a place in the Varsity Match team either this season or last because so many girls are coming to Cambridge and wanting to play the game.”
Opposing her in the dreaded Dark Blue of Oxford will be No 8 Hannah Cooper, who began her Varsity Match career wearing a red lion on her chest. She packed down alongside Elgar in the Cambridge back row in the first game at Twickenham in 2015 when Alice Middleton ran riot and the Light Blues ran out winners by 52-0.
Having won two Cambridge Blues in 2015 – she was on the winning side at Grange Road at the end of the 2014-15 season when her side won 47-0 – she then crossed the great divide to study medicine at Oxford. She missed the 2016 contest, but was in Dark Blue in 2017, 2018 and 2019.
Now her goal is to notch her first win with Oxford and take her record up to 50%. Elgar might have something to say about that!
Photo Credit: Wired Photography