Harbord Confident of Clinching Varsity

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The Gryphon’s Fiona Tomas caught up with Charlie Harbord, LURUFC’S Club Captain, to get the lowdown on Varsity preparations…

MOST girls would go weak at the knees at the prospect of chatting to a rugby player – perhaps more so if we’re talking Club Captain of the University of Leeds Rugby Union side. Cue Charlie Harbord. The third-year International Relations undergraduate is everything I anticipated rugby ‘Gryphon guru’ to resemble – his pleasingly apparent articulation, paralleled with an outgoing personality, would make him any interviewer’s dream and muscle mass does not come in short supply. I was, however, taken aback by his explosive enthusiasm on one thing in particular – Varsity.

This annual October clash is a far cry from the average rugby stadium atmosphere where fans mingle, applaud in unison and equally rate player performances. Choruses of intimidating chants are sung, Beckett and Uni fans are separated, alcohol inside the stadium is banned and the referee really is the man in the middle of it all. Harbord seems unfazed however.

“It’s a huge spectacle – one of the biggest games that the boys will ever play in,” he tells me. And he really does mean big. For the past seven weeks, the Club Captain for one of Leeds’ biggest sports societies has been rising at half six in the morning on four days out of five to motivate the 25-man squad that has been selected to play in the Varsity rugby finale at Headingley Carnegie stadium next Wednesday.

“I feel very proud and privileged to be in this position – it’s a massive responsibility because you know that thirteen-and-a-half thousand people will witness the work that you’ve overseen and organised. It’s incredibly exciting.” There is certainly an air of excitement about Harbord as he tells me why the Gryphons are optimistic about bettering their five-point defeat that they succumbed to in the final moments of last year’s finale. The captain blames the three weeks of pre-season training as the reason behind everything being “all a bit frantic” when it came to match day.

This year, though, the boys have been determined to rewrite their wrong. “This is the longest and hardest the team has ever been training. We’ve come back early with real intent to attack this season,” he says. As I sat listening to Harbord, I suspected that the freedom to enjoy Freshers’ week for the players seemed somewhat limited. A sense of embarrassment crept over me as I thought of the amount of Domino’s pizza I would soon inevitably consume outside the Union, and my respect for this unknown group of lads suddenly grew. The squad’s 7am gym starts are fuelled by a carb-loading and protein-shaking daily regime. Alcohol isn’t officially banned, but it’s hugely frownedupon and is therefore practically non-existent (so too, I assume, is hitting Fruity on a Friday night). But Harbord assures me that morale in the team is kept high and downing pints of water at their weekly Wednesday night social in Revolution is enjoyed just as much as the gruelling hill sprints in Roundhay Park.

The fact, however, that the Gryphons have failed to beat Beckett at Varsity for the past two years might be the driving force behind this seven-week intensive regime. Lingering on this thought, I asked whether the boys would prefer a fine game of afternoon rugby on the lawn at Weetwood rather than having to hear the ‘lip and chat’ (as Harbord tamely describes it) beneath the clamorous roars at the Carnegie stadium. Harbord, however, has his response ready.

“I don’t think there’s any more pressure than what we’ve felt in the past. We’ll definitely give it our best shot and this year I think we’ve got a good chance.”

“We know that we’re extremely privileged to have the opportunity to showcase our sport – none of us take that for granted. We will try our best to make the game the best showpiece and spectacle for people to enjoy – whether they love rugby or are just coming along for a laugh.” He believes that it is the sport itself which makes it the perfect medium to achieve a fierce yet controlled rivalry at crunch match like Varsity.

“Rugby is one of those games where you can have a fierce competition on the pitch. A lot of people just see it as boys running into one another and causing carnage, but it’s a lot more technical than that.”

I wouldn’t have said the word ‘carnage’ springs to mind when watching rugby – it’s rather hunky sort of blokes in tight tops. But then I wouldn’t associate Varsity with rugby and all its traditional civility. It’s anything but when you’re a spectator, but then if it wasn’t, it wouldn’t be Varsity.

Fiona Tomas 

Featured image: The Gryphon

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