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Preview: Welsh Varsity 2016

We catch up with some of the teams hoping to make it a 14th successive Varsity success on Wednesday

Arguably the most eagerly anticipated university event of the academic year is quickly descending upon us. A hotly-contested battle between two fiercely competitive rivals, the 2016 Welsh Varsity is surely going to be an immense sporting spectacle- especially if it materialises to be anything like last year’s competition.

Cardiff and Swansea will compete against each other in over 35 competitions in a bid to get their hands on what is possibly the most prestigious sporting title available to both universities. But it is not just the tangible rewards up for grabs. Defeating the Swans will be worth more than just the silverware. Cardiff’s bragging rights will be renewed for yet another year if they can repeat the resounding success achieved over their South Wales neighbours in 2015.

Last year’s event, back on Swansea territory after a four-year absence, saw Cardiff retain the Varsity title for the 13th year in a row with a comprehensive 25-13 overall scoreline. That success was emulated in the rugby as Cardiff’s first team overcame Swansea 27-22 in a tight encounter at the Liberty Stadium- their first rugby win in Varsity since 2012.

AU President and VP Sport, Sam Parsons, is optimistic that Team Cardiff are fully capable of replicating that 2015 glory after a successful year of sport on the whole.

“Last year, the atmosphere at Sketty Lane and at the Liberty Stadium was electric,” Parsons told Gair Rhydd Sport.

“It was much louder than at the Millennium Stadium and there was a fiery atmosphere. It was a brilliant occasion and I hope for the same this year.

“I’m definitely confident that Team Cardiff will put the shift in that we need. We’ve had a great year across the board really, both in BUCS and outside of BUCS, so I’m sure we can go down the M4 again and get that shield back to Cardiff for the 14th consecutive year.”

Louie Tonkin’s rugby side have endured an underwhelming 2015/16 campaign having finished second from bottom in the BUCS Premier South A division- winning just two games all season.

But their struggles in the domestic league will surely strive them on to repeat the heroics of their 2015 Varsity predecessors, with Parsons highlighting the return of key players from injury as a major boost to the team’s hopes of retaining the trophy.

“If you look at results and the form, the boys had a rocky start to the season but they have gradually been getting into their stride towards the end of the season,” the Cardiff University Journalism graduate commented.

“They had a lot of injury problems but those players have come back in at the right time so it’s going to be an exciting occasion.”

The 2016 Welsh Varsity takes place this Wednesday 20th April. The majority of the events take place throughout the day at Swansea University’s main campus, before the rugby kicks off at 7pm at the Liberty Stadium.

NETBALL – By Harry Eade

After a dominant 47-7 victory over Swansea in 2015, expectations are high for the Cardiff University Netball team as they head back to defend their crown. The Cardiff team remain in a buoyant and confident mood, but they know that they can’t afford to relax as Swansea look to bounce back from a crushing defeat in last year’s Varsity duel.

A convincing BUCS season for Cardiff Uni, during which they beat 2015 finalists, and runners up, Cardiff Met, resulted in a strong mid-table position for the reigning Varsity champions. This has put them in a great position for next Wednesday.

Vice Club Captain, and 1st team defender, Lauren Fraser is in a confident mood ahead of the game: “After the Easter break, the girls have returned with a strong positive mental attitude, and despite Swansea putting on extra training sessions over the break we have a very talented squad who are all motivated to produce a top performance.”

Within the selected twelve-person squad, there is a plethora of talent with both English and Welsh girls who have represented at very high standard. Goal Attack, Sally Fisher, who has previously been selected for the England Under-17’s training squad, and Elin Harding (Goal Shooter and 1st team Captain), who has recently been selected by the Welsh Under-21’s squad, are among the starting seven for the Varsity team.

Co-captain, Katherine Chadwick and fellow defender, Caitlin Horsley also bring experience to the squad having played for Team Bath NPL and West Midland Warriors NPL respectively. Although the Cardiff 1st team has recently lost Steph May, a player who had previously been a fundamental member of the team, it has provided Carys Mansfield – Club Captain – the opportunity to be promoted to the Varsity squad.

AMERICAN FOOTBALL – By Rich Jones

Cardiff Cobras are a team vying for revenge as they search for their second consecutive Varsity American Football victory on Wednesday.

They have been beaten three times by the Swansea Titans this season but have high hopes of defeating their arch-rivals at the fourth time of asking to end their campaign in perfect fashion at Sketty Lane.
After edging a dramatic 19-17 win in the fixture last year, the Cobras entered the BUCS season with promotion ambitions in the Western 1A division.

They got off to a flying start, winning their opening six fixtures without conceding a point, only for back-to-back defeats against Swansea to cost them the Western 1A crown.

Their promotion ambitions then came to a devastating end at the hands of the Titans, who held on for a 30-22 win in the play-offs following a brave Cardiff fightback.

After seeing their rivals proceed to complete an undefeated BUCS season, winning the overall Division 1 title to earn promotion to the top tier, the Cobras head into Varsity hungrier than ever to come out on top.

The Cardiff defence has been the backbone of their success throughout the season. They have been led superbly by President Toby Lock, along with defensive linemen Will Harris and Shaun Rees, all of whom will be looking to end their Cobras’ careers on a high.

However, perhaps the key player for Cardiff will be starting quarterback Chris Brinkworth, who missed the opening two encounters with Swansea through concussion.

He put in a big performance on his return in their losing play-off cause last time out, and if he can perform to a similar level then the Cobras are certainly in with a chance of victory.

LADIES’ HOCKEY – By Eliza Brett

The Cardiff Ladies first team squad head into their Varsity match-up in good stead having undertaken extra preparation in their build up.

Last years’ Varsity fixture was a tense 0-0 draw with Cardiff edging the Swans 4-2 on penalty flicks courtesy of Jess Greaves, Olivia Abbott, Mollie Hunt and Rachel Dunning finding the net.

Their training has been very intense, coming back early from Easter to boost their fitness and skills. The ladies are very much ready to repeat last years’ heroics, although they will hope the game will be finished in regulation time and not on penalty flicks. The team have been in the gym working on their strength and are ready to come out fighting, in front of what will be a raucous Swansea crowd.

As well as the Varsity preparation, the Ladies are also preparing for their expedition to Gibraltar in May for the European Championships. The Cardiff girls qualified for same tournament last year, and are very excited to be representing Wales in such a notable tournament.

Both the ladies’ and men’s 1st teams will have plenty of support on the sidelines at Varsity from their hockey colleagues, with most of the club looking to make the trek to Swansea.

In the regular season the ladies finished with an impressive four and two record as well as scooping four draws, leaving them 3rd in the Premier A South league. The ladies dismantled Oxford Brookes twice by a 4-0 scoreline and secured a draw against table-toppers, Exeter.

This Varsity fixture has increased significance for many of the 1st team with players having the honour of putting on the famous red jersey for the final time as they head for graduation. Both the men and the women are hoping to go out with a bang and hope to contribute to Cardiff’s Varsity Shield haul.

RUGBY UNION – by Liam Corcoran

History is on the side of Swansea, who have taken 12 victories from the 18 previous outings, but Cardiff will be full of confidence and fearing nothing, following their superb win on the Liberty Stadium turf last year, running out 27-22 winners in front of a record crowd estimated to be around the 10,000 mark.

Since last April, Cardiff have not had the best of times on the pitch, with a poor 15/16 season they have mustered only two wins from their last 12 matches, defeating USW and Nottingham on home soil. They finished 6th out of 7 in the Premier South A Division, with the table being propped up by local rivals USW who fell into the dreaded relegation place.

Despite being in a lower division, Swansea have enjoyed a fairly decent season, picking up 7 wins from 12 and finishing in 3rd place, topped by Exeter’s 2nd XV and Hartpury College’s 2nd XV. It is fair to say the men in green have seen more of the try line than Cardiff, with a positive points difference of 64, compared to Cardiff’s miserable -223. It is rumoured that Swansea draft in a number of Ospreys academy players to boost their squad on Varsity game day, though it didn’t aid them last year as they were forced to limp home and lick their wounds after the, what some would describe as, surprise defeat.

Louie Tonkin has a big task ahead of him to overhaul the Swans in their own nest. The Pontypool Head Coach needs his side firing on all cylinders, both in the forwards and the backs and hit Swansea hard at the scrum. Both sets of fans will do their part to roar on their team, in what will be an unforgettable atmosphere in most of the young players’ lives.

LADIES LACROSSE – by Alice Petheram

To finish off yet another great season, the Ladies’ Lacrosse First Team comes face to face with their greatest enemies once again. Their games against Swansea often prove to be entertaining and skilful battles.

Cardiff’s closest rivals in the world of lacrosse are Bristol and Exeter which both proved to be challenging and exciting games. They won all of their matches against Swansea, Bournemouth and Cardiff Met, each with huge goal differences and ended their BUCS season 3rd in the league with the same number of points as 2nd place Bristol. Ahead of Wednesday’s Varsity clash, co-captains Bex Jordache and Ella Fairlie said: “We’re really excited for this game, it’s such a highlight of the season! Hopefully we’ll get sunny weather and a great atmosphere on the sidelines. The girls have worked so hard and deserve another year of being Varsity champs!”

Last year, the Varsity game attracted a big crowd and the final score was 18-4 to Cardiff, with the team ending their season on the sweetest of highs. The team constructed an impressive five minute spell, scoring five goals from Emily Weighton, Flora Milne, Fiona Tait, Amy Rochford and the ever-reliable, Jordache. The girls are confident heading into the fixture, yet are keeping their feet firmly on the ground, knowing that Swansea can do some damage on home turf. And the team have been training intensely in the weeks leading up to the match-up knowing that, for some it could be their last game in Cardiff red.

At the end of last term, Cardiff hosted a pre-varsity lacrosse game at Talybont which saw a turnout of over 70 people on the sideline and ended with a score in 22-0, once again reminding them of what we already knew; Varsity is going to be a good day.

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