How do you think the season has started so far?
Yeah, really well. In terms of club development, we’ve now got a men’s first team that managed to stay up last year and are thriving in BUCS Premier South this year. We’re mid-table, which is better than we expected given our three-year plan, and so to be mid-table this quickly means that we’re about a year ahead of schedule. Our second team haven’t got a win yet but it’s very much a team full of complete beginners playing against universities who only have one team with players who might have been playing for two or three years.
Are there still things that the squad needs to work on heading into 2016?
If anything, we can step up a bit further. I think our goal was for the men’s team to be comfortable within about three years and we look to be a year ahead of that. It’s a very big step up to get in the top two of the BUCS Premier, but we’re certainly looking to cement a mid-table finish and beat some of those bigger, more established clubs. Ultimately, though, from a club development point of view, the aim is to have the sustainability of two competent teams, so next year one of the big inputs will be for our seconds team to be in a position where they can be really fighting for the Western One place rather than the Western Two that they’re in now. A lot of it is about growing the club itself rather than the individual performances of the team.
Lacrosse is not a big sport outside of university, so have many of your players played before they join the club, or do they all begin from scratch in Year One?
Because it’s not a big sport, we’ll very rarely get players who’ve played before, certainly in Cardiff. Other universities are starting to develop a lacrosse name for themselves, particularly in the North of England, so if you’ve got players who’ve played at high standard before, they’ll choose their universities according to that, so we never bank on having any experienced players. And the big challenge with that is being able to coach these freshers up to a standard where they can compete at the level that the guys who’ve been playing for three years have been. That’s probably the biggest challenge, as a coach, that we face – getting them to that level. It is something that we’ve shown this year that we can do, our first team already has four or five key players who only picked up the stick three or four months ago.
How has recruitment gone following the Freshers’ Fair? Have you got a talented bunch of new players?
Yeah definitely. Again, because we’ve got the two teams, the firsts can only thrive whilst having a proficient second team, so we feed players through very quickly and very early on, which is something you don’t always get in a lot of other mainstream sports. It’s really important to get the two teams working together so the training sessions are always together, which, again, is a hard balancing act because you’ve got players with the ability of three years and those who are only just starting. I mean, we’ve got seniors on the team who are trialling for Wales, these are guys who have only played for two or three years going up against guys who’ve played for 10 or 15 years and it’s really competitive.
To Lacrosse more generally, there are differences between the men’s and women’s game but what are the main ones?
The easiest way to explain it is probably by comparing ice hockey and field hockey. Field hockey is a very skilful game, relies on athleticism and stick control – that hand-eye co-ordination, whereas with ice-hockey, you’ve got all of that plus you’ve got to throw in the physicality aspect. Men’s is fully padded up, every part of the body fully padded if you want it to be; you can hit someone with the stick anywhere above the waist and below the neck, so it’s got that real contact element. Because of that, we play with deep pockets on the end of the sticks so you can rely holding the ball a little bit more whereas the women’s is so much about skills and athletic ability – an incredibly challenging game, just without that physicality to it. As well as that, the pitches are laid out completely differently, women’s has 12 players on a pitch at any one time and men’s only has ten. Yes they’re similar in that you’ve both got a stick, but they are completely different otherwise.
It looks quite an aggressive game, are injuries quite easy to pick up?
I think at the level that we play, most of the injuries will come when you’re playing opposition, and as a player you don’t really know where you should be at any one time. I come from a rugby background and in fact that’s how I started getting in to lacrosse, but I would always get a lot more injured in rugby than I would do in lacrosse. A lot of the time we’re getting hit with sticks and hit with body so it’s direct contact, and because we wear padding – I mean it still hurts – but you don’t have the same sorts of damages to ligaments and things like that, like you would in football or rugby. Maybe that’s just us putting a brave face on it!
You’ve had 11-1 and 13-3 wins over Swansea in the last two Varsity’s – are you expecting another dominant show this coming April?
Honestly, we’ve no idea! It’s the first year that we’ve not played Swansea at all because we’re that division ahead but as we’ve shown in the Prem, we’re coming out with really convincing wins against some of the Premiership teams and I would think that Swansea would probably be able to actually get decent results against the teams that we’ve beaten, so we really don’t know. I wouldn’t say we’re nervous, we’re not in a position to be nervous but it’s certainly interesting and certainly something to be thinking towards.
And finally, what has been your favourite moment coaching this team?
Last year’s Varsity, that was my tenth! I’m originally from Cardiff, but went to Swansea University to study and I coached there for a couple of years, where we won our Varsity’s, but then I moved back to Cardiff. I think last year was my 10th Varsity without a loss, so that was quite a nice personal achievement for me. Other than that, some of our results like Cardiff beating Oxford a few weeks ago was something I wasn’t expecting because they’re such an established team. Going against a big university like Oxford, who excel in most sports they compete in, that was a nice scalp – I was really proud of the boys for that one.