Mathew Brown – The Rugby Channel Column
This week The Rugby Channel releases the last episode of Homegrown 2, an original production that chronicles a camp held in the Fall to help athletes from other sports adapt their athleticism to rugby and earn the chance to join the sevens development program.
The value of this type of conversion system becomes readily apparent simply by taking a look at the current Eagles sevens squad and reading the names Alev Kelter (Hockey and Soccer) and Naya Tapper (Track & Field).
If you haven’t started it yet I suggest you move HOMEGROWN 2 to the top of your binge-viewing list as it’ll take you less than an hour to watch all five episodes. The series follows a group of female crossover athletes as they are introduced to rugby in an attempt to get themselves onto the pathway to eventually becoming Eagles.
Their weeklong camp at the Chula Vista Elite Athlete Training Center is covered from start to finish, and includes both on and off field footage of the women competing and interacting together.
All of the participants are standout athletes in their original disciplines but watching them realize that fitness in rugby is an entirely different matter is eye opening. It’s also inspiring seeing them progress from not being able to pass, catch, and tackle to actually playing a couple of live matches at the end of the week.
Episode 5 where national team coach Richie Walker decides which players he wants to retain and see more of will be available on Thursday, December 14, exclusively on The Rugby Channel.
There is no other annual rivalry quite like The Varsity Match and this year’s edition once again proved that it’s a unique fixture as Oxford and Cambridge Universities did battle at Twickenham.
The women’s match on Thursday morning was played in a massive rainstorm that proved to be exactly what Cambridge needed to stamp their authority on the game. Right from the very first scrum it was apparent that the Light Blues’ pack was going to be able to dominate the Dark Blues of Oxford all day long.
The wet and windy conditions produced a multitude of knock-ons and other handling errors, resulting in an inordinate number of scrums that fully benefitted the Light Blues. Cambridge also utilized their forward advantage to maul from lineouts, putting even more pressure on Oxford.
Despite getting easily handled up front the Dark Blues made a lot of clutch tackles and forced the opposition into mistakes of their own with positive aggression at the contact points.
It wasn’t until very late in the first half that Cambridge managed to cross the tryline when the Oxford defense finally gave way after a period of sustained hammering in close.
Another converted try from a deep counterattack almost immediately after the ensuing kickoff gave Cambridge what looked to be an insurmountable lead heading into halftime.
The weather cleared a bit for the second forty but it was still wet and cold and Cambridge’s superiority up front led to Oxford playing on the back foot for most of the contest. They continued to tackle and play hard but a dearth of quality Oxford possession saw Cambridge dot down two more tries while keeping the Dark Blues completely off the scoreboard.
One of the best parts of this broadcast was seeing the Cambridge coach watch his players receive the trophy and revel in their joy at doing so!
The men’s Varsity Match was a much closer affair and wasn’t decided until late with Cambridge winning their second in a row at Twickenham. The Light Blues definitely had the better first half overall but were up just 5 – 3 after forty minutes on the strength of a single try from scrumhalf Chris Bell.
The second half saw the sides trade tries but neither took a decisive lead until Cambridge fullback Charlie Amesbury went over in the 69th minute. Oxford still threatened to narrow the gap throughout the remaining ten minutes but could never sustain enough attack to get over the tryline.
One of the most entertaining elements of the men’s game was the variety of players who donned the light and dark blue jerseys. In addition to teenage undergraduates, the match also featured guys from the southern hemisphere who’d played professionally as high as Super Rugby level, current pros from the Greene King IPA Championship, a former European Cup winner, and 35-year-old Ollie Phillips, who at one time was the World Sevens Series Player of the Year, playing in his last ever rugby match.
All of these men, whether young undergrads or worldly graduate students, shared a single goal. They wanted to do everything they could to help their respective universities hoist the trophy at the end of the day. I can’t think of any other sport where this kind of game would be a big attendance draw or perhaps even possible but in rugby the camaraderie and commonality of purpose appeared wholly natural.
In the end the former sevens star, the current pro, and the various academy and premiership veterans all contributed but it was 20-year-old history student Chris Bell who was named man of the match!
This is a fully packed episode that contains a bunch of stuff you’re going to want to check out!
Up first is a full recap of the Dubai leg of the men’s and women’s Sevens Series, a quick look at peerless Portia Woodman of New Zealand, then a profile of Springbok flanker Siya Kolisi, highlights from a Wales vs. South Africa thriller in Cardiff, and finally a look at the rebuilding of Canada’s women’s national team.
The Rugby Channel will resume LIVE programming on Friday, December 22nd with a Greene King IPA fixture between unbeaten table toppers Bristol and the Cornish Pirates. Bristol has won eleven on the trot and are looking to complete a perfect campaign as they work their way back to the premiership.
Later on Friday the Guinness PRO14 gets back underway with an all-Irish derby featuring Connacht and Ulster squaring off in Galway. Connacht are currently in fifth position in Conference A and looking to get back into playoff contention while Ulster are in third in Conference B and intent upon putting pressure on number one Scarlets and number two Leinster.
Then on Saturday, December 23rd the GP14 continues with a vital all-Scottish clash as fourth place in Conference B Edinburgh hosts Conference A leaders Glasgow at historic Murrayfield. This match features almost all of the members of the resurgent Scotland side facing off against each other, which should be outstanding to watch!
As we officially enter the season of giving there’s no better time to surprise someone with a subscription to The Rugby Channel. For just $7.99 per month a subscriber gets access to hundreds of hours of LIVE rugby programming from all over the globe, plus complete access to an always growing archive of matches, overseas shows, and original programming.
In 2018 you can look forward to another huge variety of content to be watched either LIVE as it happens or through our Video On Demand option whenever you’d like.
The 2017-18 Guinness Pro14 is in full swing and will continue to thrill from late December through late May when a champion is crowned in Dublin at the conclusion of the twenty-one round regular season and a newly expanded playoff competition.
The Rugby Channel will also bring you continuing coverage of the Greene King IPA Championship and the Anglo-Welsh Cup, two comps that have been producing highly entertaining matches of late. The AW Cup always heats up come playoff time and as more clubs have upped the importance level of winning the trophy the knockout rounds have become significantly more hard-fought. Of course, The Rugby Channel will bring you both semis and the final LIVE!
Like most of you, what I’m especially looking forward to in 2018 is the return of the Americas Rugby Championship in February featuring the United States playing Argentina XV, Canada, and Chile at home and Uruguay and Brazil on the road. For the first time the Eagles will head into the tournament as the defending champions and all the other countries will be looking to unseat them.
After the Eagles strong run to the final in the HSBC Women’s Sevens Series opener in Dubai, you have to tune in to TRC and see how they perform in Australia, Japan, Canada and France over the coming months. The United States is becoming a feared opponent in the series, known for their power and physicality, and are becoming a fun squad to watch.
All of that rugby, plus lots of domestic and collegiate action from the USA can be yours for the measly price of $7.99 per month so either Subscribe Now or give a gift subscription to the rugby fan in your life!