With Varsity next week, The Gryphon Sport had the chance to speak with Jonny House, captain of the men’s rugby union team, about the upcoming Varsity game.
It was a great result for you last year winning the Varsity finale. How have the pre-season preparations been going?
Preparations have been going well. We got started early again, got all the boys together midway through August and we had a big turn out this year to pre-season. We’re really trying to push not just winning the finale, but as many Varsity games as we can. The preparations have gone really well, we’ve had some good pre-season games and some tough pre-season games, but it’s got us ready for the tough game against Beckett.
A fantastic defence with clinical finishing was a big part of the victory last year, holding Beckett to only penalties. Is the game plan similar to last time since it worked so well?
Yeah, we know our defence is going to have to be solid again. Obviously, Beckett are a great team, a Super Rugby team and we know we’re going to have to defend well to keep them out. That game plan worked last year and the boys know it is going to be tough a challenge, but we’re ready to defend our hearts out to try and keep them out again.
It’s probably fair to say that Beckett went into last year as the favourites, having won for the past two years, but do think that has changed now since you are the reigning champions?
I don’t know if the tables have turned that much! Obviously, it was great to have had the win last year and it’s boosted our confidence massively and I feel, the confidence around the university, but Beckett are still an absolute force. They’ve recruited quite well this year as well. They had an awful year last year and think that they are going to try and come back fighting, so I don’t think one win is going to change our underdog status in the game to be honest.
Do you prefer being the underdogs?
Oh yeah definitely. We’ve got no pressure going into that game. On paper, we aren’t the favourites; they’re a league above us and they have a lot more funding. It takes a lot of pressure off the boys going into that game.
There were over 15,000 people last year at Headingley. I imagine that it has quite a different feel compared to your normal fixtures. Is it daunting playing in front of a such a big crowd and how do you deal with that?
Yeah. Obviously completely different to our regular fixtures and it’s hyped up massively, but the boys take it on the chin and take it as a regular game. We view it as a pre-season game to get us ready for the league, that’s what we really aim to do well in. It means everything to the boys representing the uni and we want to do well, but we take it as a pre-season game. You’ve got to ignore those 15,000 people screaming at you, yelling at you, throwing pints at you. You’ve just got to block it out and get on with the game because that’s what you trained 8-10 weeks for.
Winning the Varsity finale is obviously great, but do you see it more as the crowning achievement of the season or is winning the league more important?
For me personally, the pinnacle of a season would be to have our teams to win every league we’re in. Unfortunately, that can’t happen this year because our 4ths and 5ths are in the same league, which will definitely be an interesting game. Whilst Varsity is a massive event and playing in front of that many people is going to be the pinnacle of most people’s rugby careers, for me the best thing for us this season would be to do well in all the leagues with all the teams. I feel if we put so much emphasis on Varsity then our season’s going to tail away, but we really need to focus on a bit of continuity for the whole season.
Tickets at Headingley Stadium are sold out, but Leeds University Union will be live streaming the event. Tickets are still available here.