By Thomas Hornall
Though ‘strength to strength’ is clichéd and worn out it seems the only way to describe the remarkable ascension of Strathclyde’s rugby team over recent campaigns. At the start of the 2012 season the team was playing in Scottish 3A, now after back-to-back promotions the team is performing strongly in the premier Scottish 1A, sitting in second place behind Aberdeen.
The 1XV team also completed an unprecedented double over Glasgow University this season, winning home and away, reversing the tide of recent results in the university Old Firm. The tech now sits a remarkable 18 points ahead of their tweed-jacket wearing, ‘only-one-university-chanting,’ opponents.
It’s all gone quiet, as they say, over there.
This masterly run of form was furthered with a 22-17 win over St Andrews in the league: a team who had not been beaten in Scottish 1A in almost two years.
The team have also progressed the furthest Strathclyde ever has done in the BUCS trophy, making an historic trip south of the border to play Newcastle University. After sweeping the Geordies aside they lost to Durham 2XV in the last 32 of the competition, though as one of the most eminent doyenne’s of English rugby there was no shame in the loss.
This rise in quality is not merely coincidental. The number of people in the club has greatly increased in the past two years, from around 50 – 80 members, resulting in the creation of a 3XV. Moreover, the club has benefited from being a part of the Sports Unions Performance Program, which has allowed a paid coach to manage the team.
The current manager is Tonci Buzov, the Croatian national team captain, with two other Croatian internationals helping in training. Taken on BUCS positions, the rugby team is currently the most successful in the whole university within the program.
1XV Captain, Jack Dunn said: “This year Tonci has made a massive difference – not only in the structures and patterns he has introduced from being an international player but also the authority he brings. Some of the boys who are just out of school need that, and surprisingly some of the older boys need it as well!”
“Overall there is just a better atmosphere about the club, everyone is keen to play, that is epitomised by the amount of 4th years playing.”
The 2XV were unlucky not to be promoted from Scottish 4A last season, narrowly missing out. Though sitting in 3rd they are on course to do so this year, especially after a notable victory against St Andrews 2XV in a recent ‘Friday Night Lights’ away game.
The addition of a first pre-season training camp also ensured players were fit as well as technically and mentally ready to start the season swiftly. Being a promoted team is never easy and starting strongly was always going to be essential. Many players cut their summers short to dedicate themselves to this training week, illustrating the improved level of commitment in the clubs mentality this year.
Club captain, James Kennedy, said: “The pre season was absolutely vital for getting everyone up to fitness to start the season well, which we have done.”
“When I first joined the club the 1XV was sitting in the 3rd tier of Scottish Rugby and the 2XV were struggling for numbers, now we have three teams. The quality of play within the club has changed dramatically within such a short space of time with us now challenging for the 1A title.”
Promoted teams’ first aim is always survival in a new league, but the club has surpassed this and now looks one of the strongest challengers for first place, suffering only one defeat against Aberdeen.
We are in the results business, after all, and business is good.
With the next league game against St Andrews on February 4 the preparation over the Christmas break will be hugely important to maintaining the lightning advances the team has made, especially given the quality of the first opponent. Jack recognised this, striking a note of cautious optimism:
“We all know that the hard part of the season is coming up, with three away trips to St. Andrews, Aberdeen and Dundee on the trot –if we win those we are in with a shout – but for now I would say that we don’t want to get ahead of ourselves, stay humble and keep enjoying our rugby.”
Though, if this form can be carried into the New Year, then the gilt-edged idea of becoming Scottish Champions becomes a real prospect.
Captain Dunn, with almost biblical imagery, concluded:
“We are on a crusade to get to the top of university rugby: It has started this year.”