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Anna Stodter – Rugby coach and player

Anna Stodter one of the coaches of the the Cambridge University Women’s rugby team, player for Saracens and Scotland blog for Women’s Sport Week on coaching, her own love for rugby and the road to Varsity.

Rugby, students, gym, rugby and students. That’s how you’d sum up my life over the past two weeks. In fact, that pretty simple combination of words would encapsulate most of my life more generally; there’s just even less time available for anything else right now as the relaxed and ruminative lecturer’s summer has been replaced by a rush of bright eyed and bewildered freshers arriving for new adventures at university. At the University of Cambridge, though, it’s more than just sleepy 9am lecture rooms, intimidating big-name professors and sky-high reading lists of battered books. It’s preseason, and the beginning of the road to Varsity. In just 9 weeks, these students will be running out on to the hallowed turf at Twickenham, HQ, to take on ‘the other place’ in a rivalry so entrenched the opposition must not even be named. A rivalry steeped in history and a fixture graced by rugby greats; World Cup winning All-Blacks captain David Kirk, Gavin Hastings, Jamie Roberts. But perhaps the biggest slice of history happened just last year. For the first time, there was not one, but two varsity matches on the twickers turf.

That’s where I come in. I coach the Cambridge University Women’s rugby team, alongside Jack Baird and Ian Minto. Our players were the first women to play their varsity match at Twickenham alongside the men last year, and they did it in style with a 52-0 win. That they were the ones to do so seems very apt; they like nothing better than a chance to challenge the patriarchy and they’re a growing team, having recently been promoted into the BUCS Southern premier league and merged with the men’s side to create one club. These are the smartest players I’ve ever worked with, the top doctors, vets and engineers of the future who have the most unique conversations at training – what exactly classifies a fruit as a fruit (backed up with scientific evidence and examples, of course) being one of my highlights. Rugby is the perfect sport for them; mentally and physically challenging, brutal but beautiful, bonds built for life. And girls of all shapes and sizes can play too!

As a player myself for Saracens and Scotland Women, no sport has made me feel more powerful and confident in my own body, pushing it to its limits and sometimes beyond (painful!). As a coach, I get to introduce people to its addictive charms. Last year, two of our Varsity ‘Blues’ had only picked up a rugby ball for the first time 6 weeks before the big match. I ended up at Scotland trials a year after I first ran bewildered around a pitch. Take up rugby and who knows where it might take you – Twickenham, international caps, or the clubs that are the lifeblood of our local communities.

As part of this blog, I’ll be documenting our road to Varsity 2016 with the thoughts and experiences of some of the players I’ve mentioned. I’m starting with a newbie, to show why you should consider rugby and the benefits it brings. Join us on our journey to Twickenham!

Rachel Grewcock studies Classics at Trinity College, Cambridge and is currently balancing five weeks of rehearsals for The Greek Play with her first ever rugby preseason.

I had played with a rugby ball in the garden with my Dad, so I had an appreciation of the game drilled into me. As a sprinter, I thought that I had some relevant skills, and I took a thrill from stepping an opponent in touch. I had been involved in various sports from running to rowing, so I knew how to train and lift weights, and I had no qualms about running into people larger than me. This pointed me towards rugby, but it was the adrenaline that clinched it. So far I have been able to channel my skills towards the physical goal of the try-line, which has been awesome. At this stage, the learning curve is steep and feedback is really productive, so training whizzes by. It has been difficult to fit weights and training around 7 hours of rehearsals, but even when I’ve turned up to training in a state of exhaustion, I’ve finished training in a much more focussed state, fuelled by the adrenaline buzz of rugby.