Squash is usually thought of as a bit of a niche sport. It’s played in a large cube with a little rubber ball which both players alternately hit against the wall until one of them wins the point. Put like that, it probably sounds a little pointless. But there are so many different levels to squash, and at every level of play there’s something to enjoy. At the higher levels it’s often described as physical chess. It’s fast, fluid, intense, and tough. International squash players run approximately 1118 metres in the 16 and a half minutes the average squash game takes them to complete, with well over 500 changes of direction, whilst hitting the ball at speeds of up to 175 mph. During this they’re trying to outplay, outmanoeuvre, and outthink their opponents, so the description seems apt. But even as you filter down through to the beginner levels or are just playing for fitness, squash is challenging, enjoyable, interesting, and a little different to the standard fare.
As a sport for non-wizards, quidditch came into existence in 2005 in Vermont, USA. Three years ago, the sport made its way to Oxford, leading to the founding of Oxford University Quidditch Club (OUQC) and its two teams, the Radcliffe Chimeras, who are currently both British and European champions, and the Oxford Quidlings. Rather than cosplaying, quidditch players have replaced wands and capes with tactical insight, speed, and in some cases, brutal force.
What happened this year in the world of Rugby League? Well, I guess Sam Burgess did some big hits and hurt his cheek. Ben Flower punched that guy while he was on the floor. Oh yes, and there was that funny commentary on Youtube.
These are all noteworthy, but, as an actual fan of the game, forgive me if I am a little bit frustrated when an outstanding year in the sport is forced into a pigeonhole consisting of the Next Big Thing for rugby union, a thug that represents a violence problem in the game, and a funny Northerner. It’s not like there’s been a shortage of other talking points. I’ll give you a few:
The Blues netball team entertained the University of Birmingham at Iffley Road on Bonfire Night, emerging as comfortable victors in a thoroughly entertaining game.
Both teams headed into the fixture knowing a win would send them to the top of the BUCS Midlands 2A league. Oxford started the brighter, with their high intensity play forcing early mistakes from Birmingham; the Blues were rewarded with a brace of goals in the opening 5 minutes. The remainder of the first quarter was a cagey affair, until a flurry of goals just prior to the interval culminated in Oxford going into the break with a healthy 7-4 lead.
The second quarter began with the visitors on the front foot and, despite a heroic goal-saving interception from goalkeeper Keyser, Birmingham would score first to put them within 2 of Oxford. This seemed to rouse the Oxford team, and any threat of a comeback was soon put to bed with some brilliant approach play leading to 3 quick-fire goals for the Blues. With Murray, Coe and Rogers controlling the game, Oxford could have been out of site if not for the clinical finishing of the Birmingham goal shooter. 13-7 at half-time; Birmingham just within touching distance.
They wouldn’t be for long – the 3rd quarter turned into a goal-fest for Oxford. The astoundingly high energy levels of their back line saw almost every Birmingham attack snuffed out. The eagerness of goal defence Dixon to swiftly turn defence into attack led to a plethora of goal-scoring opportunities for goal attack Fries and shooter Faull. Faull in particular was in imperious form, and her near-perfect rate of conversion meant Oxford ended the quarter having doubled their goal tally: 26-13 to Oxford.
Oxford continued to assert their superiority throughout the final quarter, in-keeping with the professional performance they had put on thus far. Keyser was immense at the back, Murray incisive in the centre, and Fries unsympathetic in attack. Oxford extended their lead by another three before the final whistle.
FINAL SCORE: Oxford 35-19 Birmingham. The Blues sit top of the league 3 points clear of 2nd placed Birmingham.
Team: Ailsa Keyser, Harriet Dixon, Mia Coe, Liz Murray (c), Charlotte Rogers, Anna Fries, Liv Faull.
The Varsity Match at Twickenham is always one of the biggest events on the Oxbridge sporting calendar, but this year it will be even more special as the game is dedicated to the fifty five rugby union Blues who died during the First World War. 2014 marks the hundred year anniversary of the war’s outbreak and the Varsity Match’s organisers plan to hold a minute’s silence before kick-off in remembrance of the game’s former players.
Among the fifty five, there were twenty-six internationals, captains of England, Scotland and the British & Irish Lions and some of the greatest players of their era. Indeed, the 1901 and 1902 Cambridge skipper David Bedell-Sivright was inducted into the IRB Hall of Fame in 2013.
Of the players who had played in the final Varsity match before the war in December 1913, all thirty fought for their country whilst nine of the two team’s starting line ups had been killed before the fixture resumed in 1919. Out of the thirty players who played that day, eight won Military Crosses, two were awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross whilst another Blue earned the Air Force Cross. Cambridge ran out 13-3 victors that year and current Oxford captain Jacob Taylor hopes that 101 years on, the score can be reversed in the Dark Blues’ favour.
The former Australian sevens international and Keble student said that “the idea of paying tribute to the Blues who served in WWI at this year’s Varsity Match is a great one. It is difficult to imagine how things were 100 years ago, but it is easy to respect the decision made by so many young men to step forward to serve their country,” Taylor, who is a Rhodes scholar studying Cognitive and Evolutionary Anthropology, will be looking to lead Oxford to their fifth successive victory in the fixture in an attempt to claw back Cambridge’s 61-56 overall advantage.
Taylor goes on to describe how “one of the defining metaphors for the current Oxford University rugby team is to try to replicate the spirit of the Army in all we do. It is more about utilising that spirit and common bond to make the whole team greater than the sum of its parts.
“Even though none of us have any connections to the fifty-five Blues who gave their lives so willingly, we will have something very special in common with them at Twickenham on Varsity Match day. It will be a privilege to pay our respects to them.”
The Varsity Match last year saw Oxford run out 33-15 winners, even after they had been reduced to fourteen men after scrum-half Sam Egerton had been sent-off following an off the ball incident. Tries by Egerton himself, Carter, Lamont and Gardner all helped the Dark Blues to a fairly convincing victory over their rivals with Oxford being seen to be particularly dominant at the scrum. However, even though the Dark Blues have had the better of the most recent Varsity exchanges, Taylor is insistent that the team are still more than motivated to make it five victories on the trot.
He says “going for the record five wins in a row is a big incentive, but that doesn’t really motivate me as much as the task of bringing a new Oxford squad together this season does. I’m really motivated by the players in the squad and the experience of going through a journey together,”
Cambridge skipper Harry Peck, who is following in his father’s footsteps in also captaining the Light Blues, is determined to put the memories of recent Varsity encounters behind him; saying “we cannot carry the baggage of previous defeats. The shared goal of a long awaited victory is something we will use to unify and motivate our players.”
The Varsity Match is being played at 14:30 on 11th December at Twickenham Stadium. Tickets are still available and can be purchased via the Varsity Match 2014’s website.
It’s fair to say that polo, the sport of kings, is perceived to be one of the most elite sports in the world. However, is this image of polo truly accurate, or is it an outdated view that needs to be altered? To find out the answer to this I interviewed a second year Classics student, and member of the Oxford University Polo Club, Noel Newman.