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The growth of BUCS Super Rugby and the pathway it offers 31/01/2018

As we approach the final two months of the season, BUCS takes a look at why university rugby at the top level offers players a route into the professional game.

January is almost over.

The first month of 2018 has flown by in no time at all, but the BUCS Super Rugby season is just starting to click into gear.

As the top nine teams in the country shake off any remaining rust from the winter break, finals day at Twickenham is starting to edge closer.

But, before the celebrations and trophy lifting takes place at England HQ in March, the rise of BUCS Super Rugby over the last 16 months is something that has to be applauded.

The fact that all nine of the sides taking part this season have links with professional clubs in one way or another and also have some very talented players appearing for them on a weekly basis, highlights how beneficial university rugby is as a pathway into the professional game.

In the past, England World Cup winner Will Greenwood and England Sevens star Tom Mitchell have told us about the importance of university rugby and it is clear that it is continuing to grow in stature.

If you have attended the last couple of finals at Twickenham, one of the first things you may have seen when approaching the stadium was the arrival of the University of Exeter. The journey from the southwest is becoming a familiar one for Exeter and Keith Fleming’s side travel up in style as they use the Chiefs’ team bus.

This is not about ‘showing off’. It is about showing how the Premiership champions invest a lot of time in the university game and having seen the Green and Whites reach two finals in the last three years, they are obviously doing something right.

Their transport to Twickenham is all part and parcel of the Chiefs’ link with the university as a way of developing players. Having begun his coaching at the university 10 years ago, Director of Rugby Rob Baxter knows all about the game at this level so he is arguably the perfect partner, alongside Fleming, to give athletes every opportunity possible to make it as a professional.

Sam Skinner is just one of many players to have progressed into the professional game from university whilst current players Tom Lawday, Jack Owlett, Paul Davis and Pete Laverick have taken the next step towards playing for the Chiefs after recently signing contracts.

Another side with a similar relationship is Bath University. Already this season, we have seen the likes of Levi Davis sign a deal at the Rec and just recently, Will Britton and Miles Reid made their debuts for Bath Rugby’s senior side against Newcastle Falcons in the Anglo-Welsh Cup. Chris Barry, Jake Buckingham, Jack Davies, Tom Doughty and Will Flinn have also been around the senior set-up at Farleigh House which is an invaluable experience for some of Aaron James’ side.

The same applies to the 2015/16 BUCS Champions Loughborough. They formed a partnership with Leicester Tigers at the beginning of this season and former players such as Harry Simmons and Ben Betts are now plying their trade at Welford Road. Durham University have also seen ex-students make the grade including Simon Hammersley at Newcastle Falcons and Josh Beaumount at Sale while the likes of Wales Sevens star Cai Devine are part of the next generation in the northeast.

Two of the surprise packages of BUCS Super Rugby this term – Cardiff Met and Northumbria University – are also seeing the benefits of including some of their brightest young players in their university fixtures.

Danny Milton’s Cardiff side are able to boast the talents of Wales U20 international Alex Dombrandt along with Dawid Rubasniak (Dragons) and Max Llewllyn (Blues), but their move to appoint ex-British and Irish Lion Ryan Jones has the Head of Participation was another sign that Met are continuing their relationship with people at the very top of the WRU which only helps with their development.

As for Northumbria, their affiliation with Newcastle Falcons continues to go in the right direction with the use of Kingston Park for Super Rugby matches whilst Newcastle United’s St James’ Park will play host to the Varsity match between themselves and Newcastle University in March.

Darren Fearn’s side also have a number of representatives in the recent England Students squad including the highly-rated Will Muir and George Wakakcoke while Leeds Beckett are also seeing some of their players pull on the famous white jersey.

Added to that, the Yorkshire university has also seen more than 20 players sign professional contracts with clubs throughout the RFU league structure in the past few seasons including Sam Rodman and Lewis Jones who both joined Ealing Trailfinders.

Their link with one club in particular, Yorkshire Carnegie, is emphasised by their use of Headingly Stadium for Varsity matches over the last couple of years and two other teams that have strong connections with the second tier of English rugby are Hartpury and Nottingham Trent.

Current champions Hartpury used their National One resources superbly last season to clinch the league and cup double on the university front and their promotion to the Championship only enriched their profile. Last season, the likes of England U20 star Harry Randall shone whilst the side were captained by Italy’s Seb Negri, who joined Pro 14 side Benetton. This year, the international accolades have continued as Henry Walker and Alex Seville are both part of England’s U20 plans for the upcoming Six Nations.

In terms of Nottingham Trent, their link with Nottingham Rugby continues to grow. Despite having a tough season in BUCS Super Rugby, their squad remains full of talent with the likes of Alex Goble, David Williams as well as lock Tim Cardwell (who recently made his senior debut for Wasps) standing out this term whilst Nottingham Rugby Head Coach Ian Costello has continued to play his part in developing Trent’s side.

 

So, whoever receives the trophy in March will arguably be the best university sporting side in the UK, but what we must not forget is the opportunity BUCS Super Rugby - combined with professional clubs - offers to players who want to make a living from playing the sport they love. 

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